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SR 54 delays to continue as widening timetable shatters

The project won't be completed until September at the earliest, officials say.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Bad news for motorists sick of dust, detours and delays at State Road 54 and Collier Parkway: You'll have to wait at least three months longer.

The 1.8-mile widening of SR 54, from U.S. 41 to Collier Parkway in Land O'Lakes, won't be completed until September at the earliest, several months later than planned.

But in a case of perfect timing, Pasco County will open the 1-mile Willow Bend Parkway/County Line Road Extension this morning, about three weeks ahead of schedule.

The $1.3-million road will connect Collier Parkway with U.S. 41 south of SR 54. It's expected to become a major shortcut for central Pasco drivers locked in traffic on SR 54.

Although the U.S. 41/Collier link has been on the drawing boards for more than 10 years, a vocal group of Willow Bend neighbors has fought the project.

The county tried to smooth things over by limiting speeds to 35 mph, 10 mph less than normal.

"Half of the neighbors don't want it and have fought us all the way," said county project manager Don Luth, whose colleagues completed final inspection of Willow Bend on Thursday. "We couldn't make them happy no matter what we did."

As for SR 54, DOT announced last October an "accelerated" construction schedule that promised a Spring 2001 opening. That won't happen.

DOT spokeswoman Marian Pscion said the relocation of utilities, the construction of culverts through swamps and contractors' vacations played havoc with the aggressive time table.

SR 54 pulls triple duty as a commuter road to Tampa, a cross-county thoroughfare and a popular shopping street. Rush hour traffic can stack up for more than a mile.

Pscion urged patience for those whose daily drive includes encounters with traffic cones, steam rollers and dump trucks.

"It's going to be much better when it's completed," Pscion said of the $7.5-million widening.

Meanwhile, in a project that will complement the SR 54 widening, Collier Parkway is growing from two to four lanes for two miles between SR 54 and Parkway Boulevard.

That project, about half finished, is scheduled for completion in late October.

Work should begin later this year on the next leg of the Collier widening, south from SR 54 to Willow Bend Parkway.

But even when SR 54 work wraps up in September, drivers will simply trade one set of traffic delays for another.

In April, DOT hired a contractor for the next phase of the SR 54 widening, from Collier east to Cypress Creek.

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