ZEPHYRHILLS - House Speaker Will Weatherford described the possibility of extending State Road 56 to U.S. 301 south of Zephyrhills as a "big deal," but he added it is not yet a "done deal."
During his visit to Zephyrhills this week, Weatherford introduced Paul Steinman, the new state Department of Transportation District 7 secretary, who discussed the progress of road improvements in the Zephyrhills area.
Steinman reported that a project to widen Interstate 75 to three lanes both ways from Tampa to the Wildwood area would get underway in July. He also mentioned the widening of State Road 54 from Curley Road to Morris Bridge Road, which is projected for completion in 2016.
Steinman also said FDOT has the money to acquire right-of-way for the U.S. 301 improvement through Zephyrhills and would buy the land between 2014 and 2016. The $29 million needed for the project has not yet been secured, he said.
The big news, according to Weatherford, is a plan to extend U.S. 56 from Wesley Chapel to U.S. 301 south of Zephyrhills. Although he said it is not yet a "done deal," the plan is to have developers with business interests along the extension provide funds on the front end of the project so it can proceed. The extension would provide another east-west corridor, taking pressure off State Road 54 and a more direct truck route for the industrial development on the Chancey Road Bypass.
"The interconnection with Zephyrhills and south Zephyrhills has a lot of synergy," Weatherford said. "Having another corridor is a big deal."
He said such improvements are good for Zephyrhills, but not only Zephyrhills. "[U.S. 56] is not about Zephyrhills," he said, "It's about the entire region of this part of the state."
Weatherford met with city officials and community leaders Wednesday to discuss the progress of Zephyrhills area projects. During the meeting, City Manager Jim Drumm made a presentation to Weatherford on a project to interconnect Dade City and Zephyrhills water systems. The $1.9 million project was funded in the 2013-14 state budget with Weatherford's help.
The project is an emergency backup system for both cities, Drumm explained. In case of system failures, water may be provided from one city to the other. It will also make it possible for Zephyrhills to buy water from Dade City if needed.
Zephyrhills is in the Hillsborough River Basin, where pumping is getting more restricted. Dade City is in the Withlacoochee River Basin.
The connection will run from about Kossick Road on the Zephyrhills side to about the split of U.S. 98 and U.S. 301 in Dade City, and it will require installation of about 19,360 feet of line and a pumping station.
"I think the interconnectivity you'll have with Dade City is insurance and protection that will allow you to grow," Weatherford said.