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Road to traffic relief is maddeningly long

By LISA BUIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2002

MEADOW POINTE -- Every time I pass it, I almost strain my neck.

Has the asphalt been laid? Are the guard rails up? Are there any yellow stripes yet?

But, alas, State Road 56 remains a construction site and a forbidden route.

It's expected to stay that way until April, according to officials with the state Department of Transportation, who blamed the contractor for failing to consider weather delays and messing up a concrete bridge.

Okay, everybody, on three: $%&*@#!

As a resident of Wesley Chapel's Meadow Pointe community, I, like you, suffer the gridlock on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to get to restaurants and shops in nearby New Tampa as well as malls in Brandon or Citrus Park. The YMCA is only about 7 miles from my house, but on a recent Saturday it took about a half hour to get there. That's too much bad music and Body Solutions pitches to endure. And this wasn't even during weekday rush hour.

The new 3-mile highway initially was scheduled to be ready in June 2001. Later, transportation officials pushed the opening date to November, then to February and then to April.

The most maddening thing is it doesn't have to be this way. The project manager for the firm doing the work, Archer Western Contractors Ltd., told transportation officials last week that the road could be open in as little as 21/2 weeks. The only item lacking is a rubberized, porous asphalt top coat that helps the road repel rainwater.

But DOT officials refused the offer.

Why?

Get this -- they don't want cars in a construction zone.

Sorry, but that's enough to draw laughs as big as the one Tony Dungy is probably having at the Buccaneers' expense right now.

I guess the folks driving on Interstate 75 don't get the same consideration because I've driven through enough road work there to pave the way to Oz.

Funny, the lack of a final top coat didn't stop the Suncoast Parkway from opening on schedule.

When the three-county toll road opened last year, two sections of the highway, in northern Hillsborough and southern Pasco counties, still lacked friction courses.

"We opened it to get it in public service as soon as possible," parkway spokeswoman Joanne Hurley told Times reporter James Thorner.

If only the DOT folks shared that view.

Here's their attitude.

When Thorner called every few weeks to check on the road's progress, a DOT spokeswoman finally told him he would be the first to know if the project got delayed.

Last week, he learned from another source that the road had been pushed back another three months, increasing the overall delay to about 10 months.

When Thorner called back to ask why no one from DOT told him about the delay, DOT spokeswoman Marian Pscion responded like a typical out-of-touch bureaucrat.

At first, she said she didn't understand why it was so important whether the highway opened in February or April, though she softened a bit when Thorner explained that, yes, people here do consider the road a big deal.

Here's why:

State Road 56 will relieve some of the stress on traffic-choked Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, virtually the only route in and out of New Tampa. It also will result in lighter traffic on State Road 54 in Pasco. That will enable commuters to arrive at work and at home faster, giving drivers more time.

More time makes all the difference.

For parents, it could mean making a child's soccer game or dance recital. For some people, it could mean being able to join a church choir because they finally could be on time for rehearsals. For others, it might mean being able to participate in the Parent Teacher Association at their child's school.

It might mean being able to get in a quick workout at the gym or take a night class.

Or just being able to sit down to dinner with the rest of the family rather than stand over the kitchen sink and eat cold leftovers an hour later.

Maybe the officials with DOT should be forced to endure these clogged roads for a week or two.

Like me, they might start fantasizing that Body Solutions would come up with a formula that makes you lose weight while you sit in traffic.

- Lisa Buie is the editor of the central/east edition of the Pasco Times. You can reach her at (813) 909-4604 or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com.

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