By Matt Wiley

Drivers on and above Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. have been experiencing some new traffic patterns. In the past few weeks, both the temporary northbound I-75 bridge over BBD and the recently finished northbound lanes on BBD north of the interstate have opened to traffic.

The temporary bridge, which will be in place for about two years during the reconstruction of the interstate bridges that carry traffic over BBD, opened to northbound drivers on May 7. Southbound I-75 traffic is now moving over the old northbound bridge, as construction will soon be starting on the now-vacant southbound bridge.

Heading north on BBD has never felt so good. For tires, at least.

Recently finished northbound lanes of BBD have opened north of I-75 in New Tampa, all the way to the entrance of Hunter’s Green, and local businesses and residents of the Hunter’s Green community are beginning to feel the impact.

Keith Oakley, the owner of Oakley’s Grille on BBD next to Dairy Queen, says that business is beginning to pick back up.

“It’s better,” he says. “Not to the extent it will be in the future, when it’s all done, but we’re definitely more visible now (than we were). And, we’re a lot more accessible.”

For the past several months, the BBD widening project has diverted both directions of traffic to the southbound lanes, making businesses on the east side of BBD much less visible and more difficult to access during the road construction.

“Before, it was like people had tunnel vision with all of the construction,” Oakley explains. “You had to watch where you were going. You couldn’t really look around to see what businesses were there.”

The local business market isn’t the only thing expected to bounce back after the completion of the BBD widening project.

“Once it’s reopened, the housing market should change considerably,” says New Tampa Realty owner Tom Bosso, whose office in the former Hunter’s Green Model & Visitor Center also has been made much more accessible since the northbound lanes reopened. He says the widening project has directly affected the local real estate market.

“I see it every day when I’m driving around clients,” he explains. “I can see it in their faces. They’re looking around at all of the construction thinking, ‘I have to drive through this every day?’ They’re preoccupied thinking about the construction.”

The $107-million, three-phase widening project will eventually turn BBD into an eight-lane highway from the Pasco County line all the way south to Bearss Ave. Phase 1 construction along BBD from Pebble Creek Dr. to Palm Springs Blvd. in Tampa Palms has been causing problems for New Tampa residents since January 2010.

Hillsborough County Public Works spokesman Steve Valdez says that the stretch from Pebble Creek Blvd. to I-75 should be completed by the end of the year. The stretch south of I-75 to Bearss Ave. should be completed by late spring 2013. Valdez says that the project’s third phase, which is set to widen BBD from Pebble Creek Dr. north to the Pasco County line, is still unfunded, so no schedule has yet been set for its completion.

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