By Matt Wiley
Although one segment of widening construction along the busy Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. recently wrapped up (except, of course, for the segment between Palm Springs Blvd. and Dona Michelle Dr. under I-75), Hillsborough County officials are now looking ahead to the next segment.
The county, which just recently finished its portions of “Segments B & C,” from Pebble Creek Dr. south to Palm Springs Blvd. in Tampa Palms, will begin widening “Segment A,” the 3.58-mile stretch from Palm Springs Blvd. south to E. Bearss Ave. sometime early in 2014, pending any delays caused by the acquisition of land needed fot the widening.
“We’re in the real estate process right now,” says Steve Valdez, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Public Works Department. “We’re meeting with each property owner to negotiate the right-of-way acquisitions.”
The right-of-way is the land that runs on the side of each direction of the road that the County must purchase in order to widen BBD from a four-lane divided road to an eight-lane divided road. Segment A of the project is expected to cost about $30 million. However, Valdez says that the final number could change depending upon the actual construction costs when the project gets under way.
“(Segment A) is not like the current section,” Valdez explains. “It’s much easier to acquire the land and build on it because there are very few businesses already built in that area, so there’s more right-of-way available.”
Valdez says that the county is doing its best to negotiate with the property owners along BBD to acquire the six parcels of land that are needed to finish the next segment of widening. He says that, so far, there have been very few problems. But, he adds that if negotiations fall through with any of the property owners, taking the right-of-way land becomes an eminent domain issue and the case will be dealt with in court. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the government the power of eminent domain, or the right to take the property, as long as it can prove the property is necessary for public use and that the owner is compensated justly.
Of the six parcels along Segment A of BBD, a county spokesperson says that two are owned by the Tampa Palms Community Development District (CDD), one each is owned by Grace Episcopal Church, the Giunta Group, LTD, and the City of Tampa, and one is a construction easement, which allows the County to perform construction without owning the property.
The next segment of construction will disrupt traffic overnight through the only artery into Tampa Palms from the south, but Valdez says that commuters can expect to still have four lanes of traffic during daylight hours.
“With the amount of traffic moving through the area, we realize that we have to keep it flowing,” Valdez says. In some cases, he says, traffic could be squeezed down to one lane in each direction along BBD during night work.
The section of BBD-widening through Tampa Palms is unique in that Tampa
Palms has always been the only New Tampa community that is split down the middle by the busy roadway.
“We have to be proactive to keep the quality along BBD,” says Maggie Wilson of the Tampa Palms CDD. “We don’t want Tampa Palms to begin to look like an industrial area.”
Wilson says that the Tampa Palms CDD currently is in negotiations with the county, but doesn’t foresee there being any problems with the land acquisition process.
“The Tampa Palms CDD is not out to hold up the County for a few dollars,” she explains.
In fact, she says Hillsborough has been very easy to work with, so far. She gives the example of the necessary cement “gravity walls” that must be installed when a roadway is elevated, even slightly, to keep the dirt under the road from crumbling. Fences are installed above the edges of these walls so that pedestrians do not fall over the edge.
“(The county and Tampa Palms) are looking at ways to make (gravity walls) look more residential-friendly,” she explains. She says that the county’s design for the project was able to work around the large, brick monument signs that display either “Tampa Palms” or the names of the neighborhoods/apartment complexes located near the intersection of BBD and the community’s entrances.
Once completed, the widening project also will add three new retention ponds to the Tampa Palms area — one at the main Tampa Palms entrance crossing at BBD and Tampa Palms Blvd. (on land previously owned by Grace Episcopal Church), one behind Family of Christ Lutheran Church on BBD and one on a piece of property owned by the Giunta Group, LTD, a large parcel that stretches south from BBD at the Cypress Creek crossing bridge just south of Tampa Palms to 42 St.