The recent completion of a multimillion-dollar expansion of Race Track Road means Steve Roberta's employees are finally getting to work on time.
Roberta, a department manager at the Lowe's Home Improvement on Race Track, is no stranger to the traffic congestion that has plagued the road for years. But after a $73 million Hillsborough County project that expanded the two-lane road, Roberta says it's much easier for his employees — not to mention potential customers — to get to the store.
The project, which began in 2005, stretches from Linebaugh Avenue to Hillsborough Avenue and widened the road to four lanes between Linebaugh and E Douglas Road and six lanes from Douglas to Hillsborough.
To cut back on traffic from the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack, the county also moved the track's parking lot across the street so it would be closer to the track.
"The parking lot was on one side, and the racetrack itself was on the other," said Steve Valdez, the citizen satisfaction manager for Hillsborough County. "All those people were walking across Race Track Road. Many times that would coincide with rush hour. Cars were just backing up miles and miles."
The project's final phase, which was completed in late August, expanded the stretch of road between Douglas and Hillsborough.
The county will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday outside the North Bay shopping center to celebrate the project's completion.
Outside the shopping center's Publix this week, customers said they were pleased with the improvements.
"Now that it's done, it's a big relief," said Tom Rennert, a quality inspector at a machine shop in Tampa who said he traveled Race Track up to four times a day. "I wouldn't blame people for not using the road before."
Said Art Gaskey, an avid cyclist from Oldsmar: "It's such a change. It's smoother for cycling. It's a huge upgrade."
County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who will be at Monday's ribbon-cutting, said development in the area made the project necessary.
"I think people were really concerned because if you've got a lot of people squeezing into a one-lane road, it's going to be tough to get people where they wanted to go," she said. "I think this is where we want to go with all of our road projects."
Valdez said the project has not only improved the road but encouraged development in the surrounding area.
"It was a very tattered, narrow, little country road before," he said. "There were not that many businesses or residences built up on it. The change is phenomenal in the way that the area has developed with it."
Aubrey Whelan can be reached at (813) 226-3446 or [email protected]