By Sean Bowes
Drivers should be even more careful traveling on the portion of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. that extends south from Palm Springs Blvd. in Tampa Palms to E. Bearss Ave., now that some of the preliminary utility lines relocation work of this second segment of BBD to undergo its scheduled widening (from four or six total lanes to eight in each direction) has begun.
According to Hillsborough’s Public Works Steve Valdez, however, this portion of BBD, known as Segment A (the portion representing Segments B & C, between Palms Springs Blvd. and Pebble Creek Dr. already has been under construction for more than a year), is not yet beginning its actual construction. He says the road work that residents are currently seeing, mainly between Bearss Ave. and Amberly Dr. is all utility work.
“TECO, the Tampa Water Department, Bright House, Verizon…They all need to move their utility lines before the actual widening can begin,” Valdez says. “They are working with the water lines now. Drivers are going to need to be cautious. There will be lane closures, if needed, but only during the night time hours.”
Drivers are encouraged to pay close attention while traveling on BBD, especially during the evening, as unexpected temporary lane closures may crop up. The utility work on the median of Segment A will continue until next summer.
A little further south, the intersection of BBD and E. Fletcher Ave. is regarded as one of the most hazardous in the county. Since last year, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) has cracked down on red-light runners turning onto BBD and those continuing on BBD as they cross over Fletcher Ave., as the intersection is one of only 19 in Hillsborough County that has red light cameras installed. A red light camera violation is $158.
HCSO has even posted videos on its Youtube.com account where viewers can watch trucks and vehicles barreling through red lights on their way into New Tampa.
In addition, over the course of the last 90 days, the Tampa Police Department has listed several intersections on BBD as among the most dangerous in our area. In reverse order, the are: BBD & Regents Park Dr., #68; BBD & Dona Michelle, #67; BBD & I-75, #66; BBD & CC Blvd., #43 and BBD & Amberly, #19 (with 53 crashes in the past three years). The city’s second most dangerous intersection for drivers is Fowler Ave. and 30th St. (BBD), which has seen more than 115 crashes in the last three years.
Speaking of danger, for pedestrians and bicyclists, the most dangerous roadway segment in the entire Tampa Bay area is the stretch of E. Fletcher Ave. between Nebraska Ave. and BBD.
After years of police writing jaywalking citations, bicyclists getting into accidents and cars striking pedestrians, the road is finally getting a “safety makeover.”
Since 2006, three jaywalkers have been killed while trying to cross the four-lane road and at least 97 others have been involved in collisions. This stretch of Fletcher Ave., which is packed on both sides with car dealerships, fast food restaurants and strip centers, is a main route for drivers traveling from I-275 to the University of South Florida (USF) and the rest of New and North Tampa. There are apartment buildings and low-income housing surrounding the area, as well. The mix of pedestrians and bicyclists crossing to local businesses and the volume of traffic on “the most dangerous road in Hillsborough County” is a deadly mix, says Valdez.
It’s not uncommon to see people pushing shopping carts or carrying handfuls of grocery bags as they illegally dart across the street, dodging cars and city buses to get to the other side.
That is why the county is stepping in to add six new crosswalks and new bicycle lanes for each side of the road, as well as a concrete median and shrubbery to discourage jaywalkers. New “pedestrian crossing” signs with blinking lights also will be installed to alert drivers of foot traffic.
The county also is looking to lower the speed limit for that section of Fletcher Ave. The current speed limit is 45 miles per hour; but county officials say they are considering lowering speeds to either 35 or 40 mph.
According to Valdez, the combination of 40,000 cars traveling on that strip of Fletcher Ave. every day with 1,400 people who illegally crossing the road has created a serious “conflict point” for both pedestrians and drivers, which is why the county and state are seeking a $2.5-million federal grant to pay for the improvements. The county already has secured $1.5 million to go towards the project. When completed, the upgrades will have cost $4 million in state and county funding.
“I drive the road every day to get to work and I always see people jaywalking,” says Jason Link, a support specialist at USF. “I’ve come close to hitting someone on a bike before and I have had to hit my brakes for someone crossing the road.”
A jaywalking ticket will cost you around $50 and HCSO has been enforcing the law this year, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from illegally crossing, says HCSO Cpl. Troy Morgan. Since January of this year, approximately 3,700 people have been issued warnings and 761 citations have been written. HCSO officials say they will continue to crackdown, but even Cpl. Morgan admits that a lot of people don’t see jaywalking as a crime.
According to a study by Transportation for America (T4A), a grassroots organization that focuses on progressive transportation options, the Tampa Bay area is the second most dangerous place for pedestrians in the U.S. Only Orlando was most dangerous. From 2000-09, 905 pedestrians were killed on area roads. A pedestrian is injured every seven hours in the Bay area, according to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
The construction of the new crosswalks and bike lanes will not begin for another year, so until then, drivers are still likely to see pedestrians and bicyclists illegally crossing the roadway.