Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Transportation

Project to ease Lithia Pincrest, Lumsden intersection traffic

BRANDON — An $11.4 million project aimed at relieving congestion at the intersection of Lithia Pinecrest and Lumsden roads is slated to begin later this year.

The project, expected to be completed in 12 months, will add new turning lanes, through lanes, medians, bicycle lanes and sidewalks at one of Brandon's busiest intersections for motorists driving to and from Bloomingdale, FishHawk, Lithia and Valrico.

The intersection, also fed by traffic from nearby Durant and Bell Shoals roads, is used by 19,316 vehicles a day, according to Hillsborough County officials.

"The approaches have unconventional, skewed crossings that create conflicting movements for the vehicles," according to a notice on the project's website. "In addition, the lane configurations and turn lane lengths do not provide adequate operational capacity for current and future traffic demands."

The report notes further that "due to the increase of residents and continued development in the surrounding area, the intersection is operating beyond its design capacity, resulting in significant vehicle delay due to traffic congestion and a high number of accidents."

Michelle Hope works at the Tea Cup Tea Room on Lithia Pinecrest Road, just east of Lumsden Road. Any improvements "would be good," she said.

"I see a lot of congestion early in the morning and later during rush hour there."

The intersection improvements may cushion the blow for drivers who had hoped to see Lithia Pinecrest widened from two lanes to four between Lumsden Road and Bloomingdale Avenue.

The $80 million widening project, debated for six years, was initially heralded as the solution to backups in the congested corridor. Local opposition and budget woes now appear to have killed the project.

The county first studied widening the road in 2006 with a project development and environmental study to assess the impact of any potential widening of Lithia Pinecrest. Such studies are necessary before a project can apply for federal funding.

The widening project, backed by the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce, was revisited last September by the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The agency, which includes representatives from local governments and transportation agencies, oversees transportation planning for Hillsborough County.

A new study of the proposed widening concluded with a Metropolitan Planning Organization recommendation last month that the project be placed on the "constrained road list," meaning it cannot be widened without the approval from county commissioners.

Metropolitan Planning Organization and county staff are now working on that recommendation, which will have to be approved by county commissioners.

"It would be a confirmation of public sentiment and opposition to the widening," said Wally Blain, principal planner at the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

With no federal or local funding for the project — and none expected in the near future — it appears all but dead for now. The county could revive the widening project, but that appears highly unlikely in the near future given current budget constraints.

While traffic along Lithia Pinecrest is projected to double during the next 20 years, local opposition also heavily impacts planning, said Steve Valdez, a Hillsborough County spokesman.

"Future traffic projections are one thing, but local and community support is just as heavily weighted as need," he said.

Widening Lithia Pinecrest from two lanes to four from Bloomingdale Avenue to FishHawk Trails is still on the books but has no funding at this point and no projected start date for construction, Valdez said.

Kevin Brady can be reached at [email protected]

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