BROOKSVILLE - The widening of State Road 50 to six lanes from U.S. 19 to the Suncoast Parkway won't be completed for at least 18 months.
But given the congestion along a part of the road - at Mariner Boulevard - the county is planning interim safety measures to facilitate access of frontage roads and reduce frequent bottlenecks.
Brian Malmberg, Hernando County's assistant administrator for operations, last week told members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization the State Road 50/Mariner intersection is one of the most congested in the county.
Interim fixes include modifications to the east-west frontage road along Mariner, north of the intersection.
Motorists leaving from behind a Walgreens store on the west only would be able to turn right onto Mariner. Drivers on the opposite side of the frontage road, behind a Circle K convenience store and car wash, only could turn right as well.
Malmberg said county staffers also are considering limiting traffic leaving the Circle K at the corner - perhaps a right-turn-only onto Mariner Boulevard.
The proposed changes presumably would eliminate the queue of cars at State Road 50, which often prevents motorists from accessing the road off Mariner. The interim fix could take effect by spring. After that, the county likely would wait until the widening is done to determine if more improvements are needed on that stretch of Mariner Boulevard, Malmberg said. It might be possible, for example, to acquire right of way for a more maneuverable road.
Florida's Department of Transportation predicts the State Road 50 widening project will be completed in June 2015.
"We have a little ways to go," Malmberg said. "But if you drive it, you can see progress."
Malmberg said rather than wait until 2016-17, when improvements initially were scheduled, it is necessary to move up the design phase.
That's good news for county Commissioner Diane Rowden, who said she deals with the heavy construction along State Road 50 every day. "It's a nightmare," she said.
Brooksville Mayor and MPO member Lara Bradburn urged staffers to consider the looks of the intersection, which has retailers on all four corners.
"There are three aspects to look at here," Bradburn said. "The first one is safety; the second is aesthetic value and the third is cost."
Any short-term fixes along Mariner Boulevard south have the potential, she said, of "degrading the aesthetic quality of an already depleted intersection" because of barricades and other traffic-calming devices.
If that continues, "people will be less likely to choose that as their shopping destination.
"We want to just keep that in mind for the businesses' sake," Bradburn said.
If the county decides in the long term to acquire right of way along the north part of Mariner Boulevard, the county must decide which side of the road would be taken by eminent domain.
County Commissioner Dave Russell said there briefly was talk of buying the Circle K property to smooth out the intersection, but that is unlikely because it could cost the county up to $6 million.
"That's terribly expensive," Russell said. "So we're looking at alternatives."
County Commissioner and MPO Chairman Wayne Dukes said there are no easy fixes but the stopgap measures along Mariner Boulevard should help until more permanent alternatives are installed at the intersection.
"We're going to have to restructure that whole place," Dukes said.