TAMPA — Traffic calming, the county called it.
For many years, homeowners in Carrollwood had complained about speeders using their neighborhood streets as shortcuts. They wanted to make roads safer to walk dogs and bike with their children.
The solution: a cornucopia of speed humps, signs and raised intersections scattered throughout the master planned community north of Tampa. It would ultimately become the largest project of its kind in Hillsborough County.
The price tag: nearly $4 million.
But instead of calming residents, the humps and bumps outraged many.
They called the project overkill, a nuisance, clutter.
Under growing public pressure, Hillsborough County commissioners agreed to scale back the plans and even dig up some of the bumps. But some homeowners still aren't satisfied, and commissioners are considering more adjustments.
They enlisted an arbitrator to listen to residents and come up with recommendations. A report released last week detailed more changes to be made.
If commissioners go along with that, the county will have spent about $420,000 calming the traffic calming.
In retrospect, nearly everyone agrees that mistakes were made as the project's size and price tag expanded. And they have vowed never to do a project like it again.
• • •
It all started in 2005.
For many years prior, Carrollwood residents had asked county commissioners for help curbing traffic in their upper middle-class neighborhoods.
When a Lowe's home improvement store petitioned to move into a shopping center off N Dale Mabry Highway, the county saw a chance to finally do something about traffic.
Though there were vocal advocates on either side, enough residents in 900-home Original Carrollwood had voted to participate in traffic calming. On the other side of Dale Mabry, homeowners in a small section of Carrollwood Village had done the same.
The Lowe's developer pledged $874,790, and the county began meeting with homeowners. Over time, taxpayers would kick in $3 million for the project.
Angelo Rao, then the county's traffic calming engineer, led a series of community meetings to explain the options and solicit input.
The plan shifted drastically in November 2005. County officials decided the entire 3,200-home Carrollwood Village area would be included, not just the areas that voted to participate.
Many Village residents were outraged and let commissioners know, but the county still moved forward.
In 2006, colorful maps showed where some 30 speed feedback signs, 40 raised crosswalks and another 40 speed tables would be installed on main roads and side streets.
In Carrollwood Village, six bumps were planned for a 1-mile stretch of Casey Road from Gunn Highway to S Village Drive.
In Original Carrollwood, there were seven on a half-mile stretch of Lake Carroll Way.
Longtime Original Carrollwood resident Charm Thometz recently remembered thinking the blueprint looked excessive. She worried about emergency response times and how all the speed bumps would damage cars.
"I was like, 'This isn't going to work,' " she said.
• • •
The construction process began, which only made residents angrier. And their criticism of county leaders grew louder.
Not only did they complain that the traffic calming was overkill, but they also accused the county of bungling the process. All of Carrollwood Village should have been able to vote on participating after the county decided to expand the project, some residents said.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe said Friday that it proved to be a costly mistake.
"When things go awry — and they will — people point to you and say, 'You broke the rules,' " he said.
To appease the critics, commissioners agreed in 2009 to pay an arbitrator $70,000 to review the Carrollwood Village plan. The arbitrator made 21 recommendations that cost about $105,000, which commissioners also approved.
Original Carrollwood, where construction was almost finished, was handled differently. Commissioners approved some changes and dug up a few humps. But the initial plan, heavy on speed tables and raised intersections, was mostly intact.
Meanwhile, commissioners began to admit that poor decisionmaking had flawed the process. "The process has been flawed from the very beginning," then-commission Chairman Ken Hagan said in May 2009. "Mistakes have been made every step of the way."
One of the missteps was the scope of the project.
The county's Neighborhood Traffic Calming program was never meant to be used for such a sweeping community-wide initiative. Small clusters of residential streets are better served by the program, which would have required Original Carrollwood and Carrollwood Village to be broken into several small sub-areas.
Commissioners are hoping to put the entire matter behind them soon.
In January, staff presented a thick report outlining the success of Carrollwood traffic calming.
Speeding had been reduced and there were fewer cars using the roads. Meanwhile, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings had been installed.
But Carrollwood residents still showed up to complain, including Thometz. She told commissioners how the community she has called home for 25 years isn't much fun to live in anymore.
Recently, she said her daily commute includes traveling over at least seven speed humps. One day, she counted 24 during a trip to and from the grocery store. "It would have been a lot less invasive to put in a stop sign as opposed to speed bumps," she said.
Commissioners decided to give residents one last chance to weigh in. They hired the same arbitrator, IBI Group, to study Original Carrollwood.
Last week, the company recommended another $168,100 worth of fixes.
The County Commission will decide Thursday whether to accept the recommendations, which include the removal of six of 25 speed tables, three speed humps and two raised crosswalks.
Thometz said she feels the arbitrator has been fair to the residents and supports most of the recommendations. But No. 6 on the list — remove three sets of speed cushions on Lake Carroll Way and replace them with three flat top speed tables — troubles her.
That alone would cost $60,000. Instead, she said, the county should save some money by simply removing the humps and see if the situation worsens.
"I'm hearing a lot of people saying, 'What are they doing again?' " Thometz said Friday, not long after she e-mailed the arbitrator's report to her list of traffic calming opponents.
"It's just another misuse of taxpayer dollars."
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.