Traffic snarls continue to frustrate New Tampa drivers, as road construction is moving forward on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., but isn’t quite complete yet.
A persistent trouble spot on BBD is in front of Wharton High, where delays get particularly lengthy during morning drop-off and after school lets out.
The intersection of BBD and Oak Preserve Blvd. in front of Live Oak Preserve, at the north end of the high school, where student drivers and parents enter and exit the school, has drawn a lot of complaints.
“That intersection is ridiculous during drop-off,” said parent Paula Olson in a letter to Tampa City Council member Luis Viera. “People are turning left out of the wrong lanes, people are going straight from multiple lanes because they don’t want to wait — all with new student drivers in the mix.”
Olson and others voiced concern that while they have heard the situation will be better when the construction has been completed, something needed to change immediately.
Viera says he has heard his constituent complaints. Because students also are walking in that area, he says the matter is of particular importance. “Bruce B. Downs is a is a county road, not a city road,” says Viera, “so it’s a little bit out of my jurisdiction, but I jumped on it anyway.”
In road construction terms, that portion of BBD is part of “Segment D” – a 1.44-mile stretch from Pebble Creek Dr. to County Line Rd. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
Construction on Segment D began in October of 2016, when it was a four-lane divided roadway, and it will soon be an eight-lane divided roadway with a landscaped median, sidewalks, a multi-use path and upgraded traffic signals.
But although completion of the roadway portion should be as early as November, Viera says he set up a meeting with representatives from Hillsborough County to figure out what could be done quickly.
He reports that four issues were agreed to at this meeting with the county on Sept. 21, and have since been implemented.
First, an off-duty law enforcement officer now assists with directing traffic during the morning hours while students are going to school.
Viera says that three additional issues relate directly to pedestrian safety in the crosswalk across BBD.
The timing on the crosswalk has been changed to allow for more time for students and others to cross from Live Oak to get to the school.
Striping on the pavement was enhanced to more clearly mark the pathway.
It also was discovered that the pedestrian buttons were sticking, so that problem also was corrected.
Viera says this is a great example of different governmental entities working together across jurisdictional boundaries to get issues resolved for local residents.
Earlier this year in a school-wide email and phone call, Wharton principal Mike Rowan reminded parents that all students attending the school are provided transportation by bus, no matter the distance they live from school.
This is an exception to the Hillsborough County School District policy, which typically offers buses only for students who live more than 2 miles away from school. However, busing is offered at Wharton due to the “hazardous conditions” presented by roadway construction and then, once construction is complete, an eight-lane road.
“It has certainly been a challenging situation living through the entire BBD expansion project,” says Olson, who says she has lived in New Tampa for 17 years. She calls the changes “positive” and says she was pleased to see them implemented.
“Personally,” she adds, “I will just be happy when this project is completed, which hopefully will be soon.”