THONOTOSASSA, Fla. — The Florida Department of Transportation is looking for feedback on plans to widen part of a busy highway between Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
City traffic on a country road. That’s how Raymond Smith describes the stretch U.S. 301 near Thonotosassa that he drives a lot.
“Pretty much every day,” said Smith, a local handyman, as he made a pit stop at the 301 Petrol Mart Wednesday morning. “Certain times of the morning — like the side roads, you really have problems, you know, getting out.”
“That road — it definitely needs widening,” he added.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is in the early stages of studying a potential widening project for the 13.1 mile stretch of US 301 that runs from Fowler Avenue through Thonotosassa past Hillsborough River State Park to State Road 56 in Zephyrhills.
It’s a stretch Smith said has become busier, more congested and more dangerous after recent growth.
“I see it with my own two eyes, you know. I know it’s bad,” he said. “It’s bad.”
Recent data underscore his point. According to FDOT, the two-lane undivided highway has logged 36 head-on crashes and 17 fatalities in the last few years.
Those statistics are part of the reason why FDOT is considering a roughly $199.5 million plan to widen the 13.1-mile section of U.S. 301 to a four-lane divided highway.
However, FDOT spokesperson Kris Carson said the idea is still in its infancy.
“We have a preliminary design, but there’s no right-of-way (acquisition) or construction funded,” she said.
Before any plan advances, Carson said FDOT first wants public input.
The department will hold a public meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the FDOT District Seven Headquarters at 11201 N. McKinley Dr. in Tampa. Additionally, the department will also provide a virtual option to attend. Registration to attend virtually can be completed at this link.
“We want to know if they travel this route, what they want to see, do they want improvement, what are their concerns — we really want their input,” said Carson.
According to an engineering report, the project could potentially impact 11 businesses and 16 homes.
The section of U.S. 301 also crosses between several nature preserves in the 13.1-mile span, including Hillsborough River State Park. According to the report, widening the highway could impact 27.8 acres of public lands and 31.1 acres of wetlands. Carson said the environmental impact will be studied and mitigated if and when the project moves forward.
“We’ll continue to work with our partners in Hillsborough County and Pasco County,” she said.
In Pasco County, Gene Whitfield, the Mayor of Zephyrhills, said a widening project is long overdue.
“I think it would be obvious that it’s pretty well needed,” he said.
Whitfield said the congestion on U.S. 301, which bottlenecks other Zephyrhills roads, has only gotten worse in the past five to 10 years.
“At rush hour time, it is just unbearable," said Whitfield.