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State Road 56 extension to start by spring

Residents are upset over the delays as one new school starts and another gets ready to open.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published October 20, 2006


WESLEY CHAPEL - Two deadlines have come and gone for the State Road 56 extension project, and now a third is on the horizon.

In February, the project's private-sector developers said the extension would start in September 2006. In July, they said it would start in December 2006.

Now, a top engineer in the project has said the start date will be spring 2007.

Meanwhile, traffic in the area continues to swell.

A new middle school nearby with 1,200 students, is up and running. A new 900-student high school next door will open in January.

The road's delay has infuriated residents, who speculate the private sector is motivated more by the plodding pace of permit negotiations than residents' urgent needs.

"The date of this road keeps being moved back," said Raymond Kobasko, who lives on Sassafras Drive, just south of the proposed extension. "I wonder if the soft real estate market has anything to do with Pulte Homes' decision? I'm afraid it will only get worse as the high school nears completion."

Pulte Homes, King Engineering Associates and the Goodman Co. are charged with building the $15-million extension, which would link the 3½ miles between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Meadow Pointe Boulevard.

Their task is part of the deal to develop the city-sized Wiregrass community. Pulte will build thousands of homes there. Goodman is behind the $105-million Shops at Wiregrass mall.

The 5,000-acre proposition is still awash in permit negotiations. The mall recently announced a delay to its completion date from the end of 2007 to spring 2008.

But Keith Appenzeller, King's president, denied the delays are tied to market conditions.

"We're ready to start by the end of February or early March 2007," he said. "Construction should be completed by the end of 2007. ... In reality, the (re-evaluation) that allowed this project to proceed was only approved this spring, so we actually have made incredible speed."

For months, King was stuck in what the state Department of Transportation called "an educating process" on how to build the four-lane road.

"This project is ... one of very few in virgin territory and involves a substantially larger developer," said Dwayne Kile, the state's design engineer. "That puts it in a scale you don't see every day.

"We have developers that are used to dealing with just (smaller projects and lower standards). Now they are trying to build to state standards."

Kobasko thinks school officials are just as much to blame for failing to ride herd on those responsible, but a top district official said he gets just as frustrated when he presses for answers.

"Nobody seems to have a clue," said Ray Gadd, the district's assistant superintendent. "Every time I ask somebody about it, they just shake their heads and start whining about the problems."

Once the extension is done, though, expect a speedy ride. Appenzeller said the extension is designed for 70 mph speeds, though Kile said the state may not post that as the speed limit.

"I may only post it as 55 mph," Kile said.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at (813)909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.