tampabay.com

SR 56 to go east with 6 lanes

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published March 7, 2007


WESLEY CHAPEL - Part of a proposed $1.6-billion package of road improvements spawned by Wiregrass Ranch, one of central Pasco's most eagerly awaited lifelines just got bigger.

The eastward extension of State Road 56 is due to get six lanes as it runs along the southern flank of the Wiregrass mall, before narrowing to four lanes, county administrator John Gallagher said Tuesday.

Construction on the extension is supposed to start this month, said Gallagher while addressing the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.

Two months ago, the new road was planned for four lanes.

The decision to construct six lanes came from developers responsible for building the extension, county officials said.

The developers include Pulte Homes, King Engineering Associates and the Goodman Co., whose $105-million Shops at Wiregrass would rely heavily on the SR 56 extension.

Straddling Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, the junction would become what the state Department of Transportation describes as "the largest intersection in the district." It will have "triple lefts" - three left-turn lanes - in every direction, said Kris Carson, the department's spokeswoman.

Pasco lies within DOT's District 7, which also covers Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Citrus counties.

Bruce B. Downs is due to expand to six lanes north of SR 56, and eight lanes south of SR 56, said Michele Baker, Pasco's engineering services administrator.

But the county has not yet signed off on the 5,000-acre Wiregrass development. One sticking point is how to split the billion-dollar bill for the 10 years' worth of road improvements.

Wiregrass' developers argue they are responsible only for $477-million, or about 30 percent, but the county is not convinced.

"We haven't verified their numbers," Baker said. "That leaves the county on the stick for more than $1-billion."

The package includes a curving flyover at SR 54 and Bruce B. Downs; a new interchange at SR 56 and Bruce B. Downs; and improvements to 24 intersections stretching well into Hillsborough. Baker cautioned that these projects are conceptual and have yet to secure regulatory permits.

Pasco is nervous about its shrinking wallet, and last week proposed leaving $952-million worth of road projects out of its countywide five-year road-building plan.

Keith Appenzeller, president of King Engineering, and Scott Neal, of Pulte Homes, were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

SR 56's extension has been a hot-button issue, especially for Meadow Pointe residents seeking traffic relief from new schools in their neighborhood.

Businessmen at Tuesday's breakfast meeting also peppered Gallagher with their concerns about the section of SR 54 that is at the northern edge of Bruce B. Downs - near the Saddlebrook resort.

The two-lane road is perennially choked and years late in its widening plans.

Gallagher said the county is still trying to appraise private property to buy enough land to widen the road, and construction could start in early 2009.

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at 813 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.