By Sean Bowes & Gary Nager
With 400 days of heavy road construction already under New Tampa’s belt, the widening of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. is supposed to be nearing the halfway point to the completion of its first phase — from Palm Springs Blvd. in Tampa Palms to Pebble Creek Dr. And, while some people in the community are starting to feel a bit antsy after dealing with the mangled blacktop for more than a year on the road on which they drive on every day, residents may have to suffer for a bit longer than they originally expected.
Hillsborough County is planning to spend a total of $107 million on the three-phase project, which started on January 4, 2010, and will transform BBD, the main connector of New Tampa to Wesley Chapel, from the congested four-lane road as it sits today into a much needed eight-lane highway. The widening project is composed of four different construction segments which will keep construction workers busy until at least the middle of 2014.
Currently, the project is still in Phase I, the widening of the 3.5-mile stretch from Palm Springs Blvd. to Pebble Creek Dr. (representing Segments B and C). That section has been scheduled to be completed within 1,000 days from the start of the project and be finished by late 2012.
Unfortunately, the contractors for the first phase of the widening, Kamminga & Roodvoets, Inc., have recently submitted a request to the county for a 120-day extension to complete Phase I, says Scott Passmore, the project’s resident engineer.
According to Passmore, the workers ran into some difficulties with the sewer and main water lines over the last few months, including a recent one that led to a boil water alert for New Tampa (see page 6).
“The underground water mains on the south end of I-75 were the originals from the 1970s,” explains Passmore. “Originally, they were planned to last much longer, but when we got in
there, we could see that the concrete cylinder pipe needed replacing. And, we ran into another setback with the dimensions of the fittings. You really don’t know what you are going to find until you dig it up.”
The other hurdle that the contractors ran into were the sewer lines near Commerce Palms Dr. in Tampa Palms and in Highwood Preserve.
“Basically, the sewer mains were tested and we couldn’t guarantee that they could all be 100-percent closed from their pump stations,” Passmore says. “So, we had to install line-stops, which were not in the contract, at three or four different locations, to make sure we could close the mains.”
Passmore says these unplanned utility problems are the reasons for submitting the change order two weeks ago, which will be reviewed and decided on by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners next month. At this time, the county hasn’t yet granted an extension for the contractor, and they will continue to shoot for the January 2013 deadline. Public Works department spokesperson Steve Valdez says that requests such as these are typical in lengthy projects like the BBD widening.
Although county officials admit that the road doesn’t look too different on a day-to-day basis, Valdez is confident that the project has made some real progress, and that Phase I is roughly 40 percent completed.
While Segments B and C are actually located in the middle of the four segments of the project, Hillsborough County spokesperson Steve Valdez says that the reason for starting construction there was because it is the most highly traveled section of BBD.
“It was planned from the beginning to start widening that section first,” Valdez says. ” Palm Springs Blvd. to Pebble Creek Dr. is the most traveled section of BBD.”
According to a traffic projection from the county’s Public Works Department, the traffic count on that central section of BBD is around 60,000 cars per day. A future projection by the department estimates that 70,000 cars could be traveling on that section of BBD by 2025.
The majority of the heavy work is being done during the late night hours and early morning hours, to minimize the disruption of traffic as little as possible, said Valdez.
The next phase of construction, the widening of BBD from Bearss Ave. to Palm Springs Blvd., a three-year project, and will begin at the end of this year. Some of the prep work for Segment A already is under way.
Business Effects Beyond BBD
The county has made blue signs available to businesses who request them, free of cost, to notify drivers about the shops and restaurants, which have been greatly affected by the construction. Even so, many local business owners are hoping that construction delays will not prolong their agony.
For example, Sunita Chedra, the owner of Saffron Indian Cuisine on Cross Creek Blvd., says that even though she is located two miles east of BBD on Cross Creek Blvd., her lunch business, in particular, has been decimated by the BBD construction.
“Many of our regular lunch customers in Tampa Palms and Wesley Chapel have told us they can’t get to us for lunch anymore because it takes 20 minutes or more just to get from their homes or offices to the intersection of Bruce B. Downs and Cross Creek,” she says. “Our dinner business has been affected, too, but lunch became so bad we’ve had to start closing for lunch.”
And, businesses located on BBD itself also are hoping to see an end to the construction. One business owner who asked not to be identified lamented that, “The hardest thing is looking out there every day and seeing those cars stuck in line. I wouldn’t want to have to turn off the road either, because it takes so long to get back in that line of cars and get home!”