So, I was visiting my friends Roberto and Steve, the co-owners of 900º Woodfired Pizza in the Shops at Wiregrass mall the other day when Steve (his last name is Falabella), who had served as the president of one of the subdivision homeowners associations inside the West Meadows community at the time the now-constructed New Tampa Blvd. “Gateway Bridge” was still being debated, admitted to a mistake he made at that time.
“Now that the bridge is open, I can’t believe I ever even thought of opposing it when I was the president of my neighborhood association,” he told me. “It makes it so much easier to get from north of I-75 to south of it — and you never have to get on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. And, I also see no evidence of too much ‘extra’ traffic driving through our community, which is what a lot of West Meadows residents were concerned about before the bridge was built.”
But, even though, when he did ask some of his neighbors in his subdivision about it, few, if any, had any real concerns about the bridge, Falabella admits he was very much influenced by the small, but very vocal group of West Meadows residents who were going around the community asking the individual association presidents to oppose the bridge.
“I never ‘officially’ came out against it,” he says, “but I also never went back to my homeowners to take a poll of everyone in my neighborhood to see what they actually thought about it because the people who were against the bridge were so well organized and so strongly opposed to it. Looking back at the situation now, I should have just gotten an official count of everyone in my neighborhood.”
He adds that these days, it seems like everyone in his neighborhood loves having access to the bridge. “We really should have all stood up to those who opposed it and came out in favor of it,” he says. “All of the subdivisions in West Meadows and those sections of Tampa Palms at the other end of the bridge should’ve done the same thing. Maybe we could’ve gotten it built a little sooner.”
Falabella says he was at the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting at Wharton High almost a decade ago when an estimated crowd of more than 900 people came out to debate not only the bridge itself but also the New Tampa East-West Connector Road (E-W Rd.), which was supposed to (but now, likely never will) connect from the Tampa Palms end of the bridge to a new interchange on I-275. He says it was obvious that the vast majority of those who attended that meeting were New Tampa residents who favored the construction of the E-W Rd.
“But, the only people from West Meadows among the dozens who spoke at that meeting, with maybe one or two exceptions, opposed the bridge and the road,” he recalls. “So, even though I was never against it myself, I thought that a lot of people in my community must be opposed to it.”
Falabella also credits the City of Tampa for not only getting bridge built, but also for making it so pretty.
“It really is an asset, an amenity, for our communities,” he says of West Meadows and Tampa Palms Areas 4 and 8. “I really can’t imagine that anyone is still opposed to having it now.”
And, considering that it’s still going to be at least a couple of more years before we have four lanes in each direction on BBD from Bearss Ave. all the way to the Pasco County line (see page 1 for the latest update), and until the end of this year before we even have four lanes in each direction under and around I-75, there is a possibility that more New Tampa residents will end up finding and using the New Tampa Blvd. “Gateway Bridge” as an alternative way to get north of south of I-75 without dealing with the bottlenecks on BBD. Just remember that the bridge connects two neighborhoods full of people like you, so please, drive safely on both sides of the bridge.
Life in New Tampa isn’t perfect, but it definitely should improve when our road improvements have been completed. If only they could have been done sooner.
Also, congratulations to all of our New Tampa high school grads (look for a story next issue). And remember, our schools let out June 7, so drive carefully!