Reminiscing with Gary Nager

For most people, the ribbon cutting held on February 27 may have been little or nothing more than just a new way to get from New Tampa Blvd. in West Meadows to Commerce Park Blvd. in Tampa Palms “North.” But, for me, it was an almost surreal, truly life-changing event. Why? 

Well, with all apologies to anyone else who thinks they’ve been at this longer, I’m pretty sure I’m the only community “activist” still living and working in New Tampa who represented our area at the very first community meeting (in late 1994 or early 1995), between the long-running, very organized Lutz Civic Association and a group of disorganized New Tampa residents — some of whom had never even met before — to discuss the already-planned New Tampa East-West Connector Road (E-W Rd.) that had been on the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)’s Long-Range Transportation plan since the 1980s.

The 0.7-mile New Tampa Blvd. “Gateway Bridge,” dedicated on Feb. 27 by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn always had been considered the “first leg” of that E-W Rd., even though the remaining 2+-mile segment connecting from the southwestern terminus of the bridge in front of Freedom High in Tampa Palms now may never be built (which, of course, we’ve reported on ad nauseum in the New Tampa Neighborhood News). To Mayor Buckhorn’s credit, he has been working for and, as he told me at the dedication, “voting for this” since 1999, when he and fellow former Tampa City Council member and former State Rep. Shawn Harrison held seats on the City Council together.

In addition to Mayor Buckhorn, New Tampa Chamber president Regina Ramalheira and Tampa Palms Owners Association (which is the original, or more southern, portion of Tampa Palms) president Bill Edwards (who has lived in this area longer than I have, but I don’t remember him attending that first Lutz-New Tampa meeting) talked about how much the bridge has been needed and how long all of those of us who don’t live in West Meadows or Tampa Palms North have been waiting for it to be built. We also were introduced at the dedication to City Council members Lisa Montelione (whose District 7 includes New Tampa) and citywide District 1 Council member Mike Suarez, as well as to members of the city staff and several others who made this much-needed bridge not only possible, but a reality.

But, for me, the thing that made the opening of the bridge so affecting is that I remember living in Hunter’s Green when the New Tampa Community Park, located less than a mile from the Tampa Palms end of the new bridge, opened. Both of my sons were practicing either soccer or football or AAU baseball in the park, always after school (meaning during rush hour), when it could often take me 40 minutes or more to get from my home in the Deer Creek subdivision to the Hunter’s Green main entrance, even though all I had to do was turn left on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., drive south less than two miles to turn right on Tampa Palms Blvd., turn right again on Commerce Park Blvd. and then turn left into the park.

Today, even in our usual rush hour traffic and without exceeding any posted speed limits, that trip would probably take less than 10 minutes, as I could now drive out the back entrance of Hunter’s Green, turn left on Cross Creek Blvd., drive only about a mile past where BBD meets Cross Creek Blvd. (which becomes New Tampa Blvd. west of BBD), go over the bridge and turn right into the park.

In other words, the New Tampa Blvd. Bridge may not have opened in time to benefit me and my family, but I hope you and your family will get to reap the easier-drive benefits of the bridge. Now, I wish we could just get the rest of that E-W Rd. built!

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