By Matt Wiley
The list has been checked twice, and the New Tampa area has earned something nice to look forward to for the New Year. It looks as though a large section of the newly widened Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. will be open by the start of 2013.
For the past several weeks, the smooth, newly paved and painted BBD lanes from I-75 north to Pebble Creek Dr. have been teasing drivers who have still been stuck in traffic, as the lanes lay unused on either side of the two lanes currently open in each direction, their access blocked by orange barrels.
“We’re on schedule,” says Steve Valdez, spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Public Works department. “Right now, we’re coordinating with TECO (Tampa Electric Co.) and the City of Tampa to figure out the activation plan for the new traffic signals along BBD.”
Valdez says that since the county’s traffic signals on BBD are computer-controlled, they have to be in sequence with the City’s computer system.
“We need a sequencing plan so we don’t mess up traffic patterns,” he explains. “Believe it or not, without a plan, traffic could actually get worse.”
The remaining segment of the first phase of the BBD widening project that is still under construction from I-75 south to Palm Springs Blvd. is scheduled to open to four lanes in each direction by February 2013, although Valdez says there still will be aesthetic work to be done when the lanes open.
“We’re getting there,” he says.
Although new BBD lanes soon will be open, the more than $100-million expansion project that began in January of 2010 will begin its Phase 2 construction in 12-18 months. That face will widen BBD to four lanes from Palm Springs Blvd. south to Bearss Ave. That segment is expected to take at least two years to complete, especially since two bridges south of Amberly Dr. also will have to be replaced.
In addition, the New Tampa Gateway Bridge, which will bridge over I-75 and connect New Tampa Blvd. in West Meadows to Commerce Park Blvd. in Tampa Palms, is currently on schedule to open concurrently with the new BBD lanes south of I-75 in February.
Commerce Park Blvd. Lanes Open
Meanwhile, parents and students at Freedom High and Liberty Middle schools, alike, have probably noticed that the widening of Commerce Park Blvd. has been completed.
The $1.5-million project widened a nearly half-mile stretch of Commerce Park Blvd., making it two lanes in each direction from Tampa Palms Blvd. to where Commerce Park dead-ends at Freedom High’s student and staff parking lot entrance, in anticipation of increased traffic when the Gateway Bridge opens.
Before the Gateway Bridge opens, however, a traffic signal will be installed in front of the entrance to Freedom to help keep school traffic flowing during high-volume hours, such as when students are being picked up and dropped off at the two schools.