By Gary Nager & Matt Wiley
Even though it appears that the widening of the portion of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. from Pebble Creek Dr. to Palm Springs Blvd. in Tampa Palms is complete, there are still lines of orange on both sides of from Dona Michelle Dr. north of I-75 to around Palm Springs Blvd. south of the interstate.
Somehow, we’ve been given misinformation all along (which we, sadly, have passed on to our readers) about the effect the ongoing widening of I-75 would have on the BBD project. Because of the possible need for a mass transit envelope along BBD, the former manager for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) told us at the ribbon cutting and opening of the new New Tampa Gateway Bridge on February 27 (see below) that BBD can’t begin to be widened in the area under and around the interstate overpasses until the temporary steel bridge currently supporting the northbound side of the interstate is removed (when a wider, permanent bridge will be completed) — and that bridge work won’t be completed until the end of 2013!
Former District 7 FDOT spokesperson Don Skelton said he didn’t realize that neither FDOT nor the Hillsborough County Public Works department had made it clear that area residents will still have to be funnelled down to two lanes from four lanes at both Dona Michelle Dr. and Palm Springs Blvd. until that bridge work has been completed. Hillsborough County Public Works spokesperson Steve Valdez says he apologizes for the misunderstanding after confirming that the four-laning of the full length of Phase I of the BBD widening project won’t actually be completed until the end of this year.
Open Sesame, New Tampa Gateway Bridge
Speaking of bridges, the beautiful, new New Tampa Gateway Bridge now is open to traffic, allowing New Tampa residents access to other parts of the community without always having to get on BBD. The $12.8-million bridge spans seven tenths of a mile and connects New Tampa Blvd. in West Meadows to Commerce Park Blvd. in Tampa Palms, at the entrance to both Freedom High and Liberty Middle School.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was present at a New Tampa Chamber of Commerce-sponsored ribbon-cutting ceremony on February 27 that was held on New Tampa Blvd., on the West Meadows side of the bridge.
“Combined with the widening of Bruce B. Downs, (the bridge) will give the residents of New Tampa the traffic relief they deserve,” Mayor Buckhorn said at the ribbon cutting. “Although this bridge has seen its share of controversy (see WCNeighborhoodNews.com), most area residents have been waiting a long time for it to be built. Over the long term, the bridge and the convenience it provides to the surrounding neighborhoods will improve the quality of life for area residents.”
In addition to relieving congestion along BBD, especially for those who live near the I-75 interchange, the bridge also will provide easier and quicker access for emergency vehicles. The overpass includes a five-foot-wide sidewalk on the south side of the two-lane roadway, and an eight-foot multi-use trail on the north side. The bridge construction began in May 2011 and, originally, wasn’t expected to be completed until July of this year.