By John McGurl
The outcries for a less congested Bruce B. Downs Blvd. (BBD) are being answered with the construction of the New Tampa “Gateway Bridge” over I-75 that will link New Tampa Blvd. in West Meadows and Commerce Park Blvd. The project, which appears to be about half-way done, has been funded by the Tampa City Council, and is a $14-million investment for the city. The construction contract was awarded to Prince Construction.
The building of the bridge began in June of 2011, and is projected to be completed in May of 2013. However, the completed bridge will still not open until almost a year after the completion of the Palm Springs Blvd. to Pebble Creek Dr. segment of BBD Blvd. is widened, which is expected to happen in Jan. 2013. According to the city’s director of administration, David Vaughn, the bridge is on schedule.
The 0.7-mile roadway will be wide enough to accommodate a four-lane road, but will be restricted to two lanes when it opens. It will sport an eight-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side, and a five-foot-wide sidewalk on the south side, encouraging a safer way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross I-75 without having to navigate BBD Blvd.
The overpass will cause a somewhat higher traffic flow in the newer section of Tampa Palms (Areas 4 and 8) and in the westernmost sections of West Meadows; which has upset some residents in those two developments. They fear that the bridge will turn the residential streets in both communities into an attraction for high-speed motorists, which could ultimately cause a drop in their property values.
The residents also are still concerned that the bridge is a way for the city to sneak in the controversial East-West Connector Roadway (E-W Rd.) to I-275. City officials say that the concerns are based on misinformation and that the E-W Rd. is currently an inactive project, due to a lack of funding. The controversy over the bridge caused a lawsuit in 2009, spear headed by Warren Dixon, a lawyer and Tampa Palms resident, that was thrown out in 2011.
Dixon says he is now concerned with making sure the bridge is being built in the safest way, and ensuring that his community remains safe for residents. Following a traffic safety study of the surrounding areas, recommendations for traffic lights have been made.
New Tampa Blvd. is recommended to receive one traffic signal at Wood Sage Dr. (near the entrance to Clark Elementary) with pedestrian features. A second traffic signal has been recommended for the Commerce Park Blvd. side of the bridge near Freedom High and Liberty Middle School that would operate during school hours. Other safety recommendations include increased enforcement of existing speed limits and the installation of additional turn lanes on Commerce Park Blvd.
Although some residents oppose the bridge, they admit that it will be convenient once it has been completed. The roadway also will give school buses a less congested route to and from area schools, making it safer for the children of the community. The new bridge also will reduce emergency vehicle response times for Tampa Fire Rescue Stations No. 20 in Tampa Palms and No. 21 on Cross Creek Blvd. The convenience factor will be helpful both to residents, and to local businesses, by providing a more efficient way to get in and out of the community.
Kisinger Campo & Associates designed the New Tampa Blvd. “Gateway” Bridge; it’s the same company that drastically improved the I-4/I-275 interchanges near downtown Tampa. The construction is well under way at this point but not quite enough ahead of schedule to expect an early completion at this time.