RUSKIN — Daniel Santos delivered bad news to a group of SouthShore residents Tuesday evening.
The hoped-for Interstate 75 interchange at a proposed extension of Apollo Beach Boulevard to U.S. 301 is at least 15 to 20 years away, he told a crowd of about 50.
It was not what Steve Shipman, 61, and his friend Pat Patterson, 68, both of Ruskin, came to hear.
"I am interested in community development," Shipman said before Santos spoke. "I am hoping for an interchange on an extension from Apollo Beach to U.S. 301."
Shipman was not alone. An interchange on an east-west road between Big Bend Road and State Road 674 was on the minds of many at the community meeting, which has the official title of SouthShore Areawide Systems Plan Update.
Mike Peterson , 57, of Apollo Beach, also would like to see an I-75 interchange and extension of Apollo Beach Boulevard. He says the original plan for the SouthShore area will be fulfilled by connecting Apollo Beach Boulevard to U.S. 301, thus relieving Big Bend Road.
Santos, who works for the Florida Department of Transportation in Tampa, was the last of four speakers during the meeting at the SouthShore Regional Library on Beth Shields Way.
Santos told the crowd that "the good news is, planned improvements are coming" in 2015 for two I-75 interchanges: Big Bend Road and SR 674. Those upgrades can't come quickly enough for folks caught in rush-hour backups weekdays on I-75 and on Big Bend Road at the exit. It is because of those upgrades along I-75, he said, that building an interchange for an Apollo Beach Boulevard extension is such a long ways off.
But some audience members told the planners that relief is needed now on Big Bend Road. With St. Joseph's Hospital-South at Simmons Loop set to open next year, congestion is sure to get worse as more businesses and subdivisions sprout along the four-lane highway from U.S. 41 to east of Summerfield.
The meeting was the fourth in a Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization transportation series, which kicked off in August. The MPO and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit expect to wrap up the study in April to present it to both boards.
Tuesday's session focused on what is being done to further economic development in the fast-growing SouthShore area, including job generation and transportation needs. Next month, there will be a similar meeting at the library to cover environmental and social issues and historic preservation.
Although SouthShore Commons, next to Covington Park on Big Bend Road, has yet to break ground and won't in the near future, the proposed mall and the huge Amazon building going up a few miles south along I-75 and just north of SR 674 are part of the MPO-HART study.
The study also includes a proposal to have the county develop a ferry line to MacDill Air Force Base starting from an area north of the TECO power plant on Big Bend Road.
Updating the SouthShore area plan now is all part of getting ahead of the growth, says Rich Clarendon of the MPO.
"It is the first big attempt to get input from the general public," Clarendon said. "The goal is to flush out a more robust transit plan."
The last big study was a decade ago. He said that about of half of Hillsborough County's growth occurs in the SouthShore area, which for planning purposes is everything south of the Alafia River and east of Wimauma.
Before the economic development session, there was an open house featuring four large maps showing alternate routes and transfer points in a joint MPO-HART study of transit needs for the SouthShore region.
Steve Feigenbaum, manager of planning services for HART, says the south part of the county "is a very challenging area to serve. The population density is not as high (as other parts of the county), and it has an older population." He also said that many senior communities provide their own transportation.
He said that when developing routes you look at the "big attractors" like Target and Walmart. "You look where the jobs are for people needing public transportation. You look at where people are working."
Feigenbaum added that libraries and hospitals aren't big draws for ridership, but with Amazon coming there may be a need to redo some bus routes.
Henry Howard can be reached at [email protected]