An editorial by Gary Nager
An editorial by Gary Nager

I have now owned and edited this publication for more than 21 years, which means that I have been waiting for Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. to be widened for oh…let’s say…at least 20 of those years.

I attended all of the meetings — which began in late 1994 or early 1995 — between the Lutz Civic Association, representatives (some elected officials and many staffers) of Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa and a not-organized small group of New Tampa residents. The New Tampa attendees all wondered how the city and county had so badly botched the plans for providing adequate roads (and lanes on those roads) for up to 50,000 residential units (a number, we thankfully, will likely never reach) and somewhere approaching 150,000-200,000 potential residents in zip code 33647.

At that time, we only had one “major” north-south thoroughfare (4- and 6-laned, in some places BBD), one “major” east-west thoroughfare (2-lane County Line Rd.) which connected us to points west of us (including Livingston Ave. in Lutz) but not east at all, and one “major” east-west road (4- and 2-lane Cross Creek Blvd.) which was planned to (but at that time, didn’t) connect to Morris Bridge Rd. to the  east, but not at all to the west.

By about 1996, Cross Creek Blvd. was expanded westward, although the new road — called New Tampa Blvd. — dead-ended about a quarter-mile east of I-75, as its only function at that time was to be the main arterial through a new community called West Meadows (which actually is technically part of the original Tampa Palms/Tampa Tech Development of Regional Impact {DRI}, even though it was developed as a separate community). 

Once West Meadows was approved for development, however, that dead end was always intended to be connected through the north and westernmost portions of Tampa Palms (near what is now Freedom High) to a new interchange on I-275 (between the current Bearss Ave. exit and I-275’s northern terminus just south of the S.R. 56 interchange off I-75) by a roadway called the East-West Connector Road (E-W Rd.) for New Tampa. 

So, those early public meetings and dozens that followed were intended to find solutions for adding more capacity to (by widening) BBD and to get the much-needed E-W Rd. built, because neither of those improvement projects were funded in any way at that time, despite the fact that Hillsborough County and Tampa both allowed multiple large-scale development projects (Hunter’s Green, Cross Creek, Cory Lake Isles and Heritage Isles, etc.) to be approved and built. 

The property that today is called Tampa Palms, Hunter’s Green and the developments along BBD south of Pebble Creek (e.g., West Meadows, Richmond Place and Hunter’s Key) was all annexed into the city of Tampa in the late 1980s, but almost all of the residential development in our area was originally approved by the county, so I blame both entities for allowing all of that development without having any plan to fund our two biggest infrastructure needs, despite the best efforts of yours truly and several others to get the city and county to find the money. 

Between the mid-1990s and a couple of years ago, when the county (with financial help from the city) first began widening BBD, we were told BBD had to be widened in phases (called Segments A-D), with the most expensive portion (Segments B-C, from what is now Palm Springs Blvd. in Tampa Palms to Regents Parks Dr. in Pebble Creek) to be built at the same time, because they would be both the most complicated and expensive of the segments to build. 

So, we were thrilled when Segments B-C began building, even though we knew Segments A&D wouldn’t be built for years, which meant that all the Segment B-C project would really accomplish was to move the bottleneck from right around I-75 to about a mile north and a mile south of the interstate.

But, even though we attended a city-county ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2014 for the “completion” of Segments B-C, they weren’t actually completed at that time and were having little impact on our traffic because the portion of BBD that passed directly under I-75 was actually part of a separate project — the widening of I-75 itself from Fowler Ave. to just south of S.R. 56, which was funded by the Florida Department of Transportion and the National Highway Administration. That project didn’t actually have an impact on our area traffic until the lanes under I-75 finally opened a month of so ago as you’re reading this. 

So, another $36 million is finally being spent now to widen BBD Segment A (see story on pg. 1), which means that many of us will still be sitting in traffic during that construction until that project is completed in 2017. 

Or, will it be completed by that time? As assistant editor Matt Wiley’s page 1 story tells us, the intersection of BBD and Bearss Ave. isn’t actually being improved as part of Segment A, which means that the already-bad bottleneck during the morning rush hour (which only has one lane accessing westbound Bearss from southbound BBD) won’t really be “improved” until a separate county project to make improvements from the Livingston Ave./Bearss intersection to BBD/Bearss and south along BBD to Fletcher Ave. kicks in. Matt was told that separate project “could end up being worked on concurrently” sometime during the Segment A widening, but I don’t believe it will happen without pressure from local residents on our county commissioners.

You can email all seven commissioners at Tell them you need the BBD-Bearss intersection improvements to be worked on concurrently with the BBD Segment A project! 

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