PORT MANATEE -- A roadway reconstruction project on a 5-mile section of U.S. Highway 41 in north Manatee County is weeks ahead of schedule and is expected to finish four months early.
The $30 million project is rebuilding the highway between Interstate 275 and the Hillsborough County line. To accommodate a heavier volume of trucks entering and leaving Port Manatee and nearby manufacturers, the Florida Department of Transportation will also rebuild two-thirds of a mile of the asphalt road with concrete. The area also will get extra lighting.
Updating members of the Manatee County Port Authority Thursday, Ray Callahan, a project manager with FDOT, said the work is 25 percent complete three months in. Northbound drivers in the construction zone are subject to lane closures as Tampa general contractor Pepper Contracting Services removes and rebuilds the pavement. Those closures will shift to the southbound lanes in February when reconstruction work starts in earnest on that side.
An official with Pepper who attended the meeting said he expects that his crews will be off the job by July 3. The project was initially expected to last into October.
The exit onto U.S. 41 coming off westbound I-275 is also under construction. The exit is being widened to include two left-hand turn lanes and a signal light. The current intersection has only one left turn lane governed by a stop sign.
Callahan said he expects the widening to speed traffic coming off the interstate on its way to Palmetto and the port by cutting down on backups.
"That will really help the flow," he said.
The improvements come as fuel supply company Transmontaigne has ramped its fuel truck traffic to about 1,000 trucks per month between its Port Manatee fuel depot and RaceTrac filling stations throughout Southwest Florida.
The strengthened roadway is expected to better handle the weight from heavy loads moved between the port and natural gas liquefier manufacturer Air Products across the street. Those liquefiers can weigh more than 600 tons.
Traffic to and from the port is increasing. In 2014, 2,000 vehicles a day entered and exited Piney Point Road, the port's northern access point, according to FDOT traffic counts.
Port authority member Carol Whitmore said she is pleased to see the work getting done. She said having a smoother, stronger road with better connectivity to I-275 is "extremely important" to the future development of commercial land around the port.
The port markets itself as being in the middle of an encouragement zone that offers over 5,000 developable acres, more than any other port in Florida.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.