Friday will be a big day for Pasco motorists, as two separate road projects will open to the public for the first time.
County Engineer Jim Widman said contractors worked overnight Tuesday to complete the last bit of paving work on the State Road 54 widening project. Tonight, they will remove the barrels from the roadway – opening all six lanes to traffic for the first time.
"There's still some punch list items and landscaping that needs to be done before the project is complete," Widman said. "But Pepper (Contracting) will pick that up and finish it in January."
A few barrels will remain at the eastern end of the project and near the I-75 interchange until mid-January.
The widening of S.R. 54 from I-75 to Curley Road was one of the most expensive road projects in Pasco County history, with right of way representing the bulk of the costs.
The county spent $74.2 million just on right of way. Widening the road to six lanes took nearly two years and cost another $27 million.
Widman said the Pinellas-based contractor has until April to finish the job, but the company made it a priority to complete it before Christmas. "I think they just landed a big contract in Hillsborough County, and they need all available personnel down there in January," he said.
Holiday travelers will get another break this weekend, courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation. Spokesman John McShaffrey said the agency will open Pasco County's two new rest stops on I-75 on Friday morning.
The original rest stops were demolished in July 2010. Located between exits for S.R. 56 and S.R. 54, the cost of the new rest stops totaled $25.1 million.
"They're everything you might expect from a rest stop, and maybe little more," McShaffrey said.
The size of the women's restrooms tripled, while the men's rooms doubled. Each rest stop has new picnic pavilions and more vending options ranging from ice cream to hot beverages. "They're going to be family-friendly and pet-friendly," McShaffrey said.
Each rest stop has a paved dog walk area as well as fully enclosed, leash-free dog parks. "We've got separate dog parks for large and small dogs," McShaffrey said. "I don't know of any other rest stops that have fenced dog parks – this is the first one I've ever been involved in."
Another major change is in the size and makeup of the parking lot.
The DOT expects a major increase in the amount of truck traffic on the interstate over the next 30 years. So the agency reallocated parking spaces at the rest stops.
The northbound I-75 rest stop will have 32 additional truck parking spaces, for a total of 58, and four more recreational vehicle spaces for a total of 26. There will be 15 fewer car parking spaces, down to 78.
The southbound rest stop will have 27 more truck spaces for a total of 53, and two more RV spaces for a total of 26. It will have 18 fewer car spaces, for a total of 80.
For the 18-month construction period, travelers had to drive 30 to 40 miles to reach another rest stop.