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Find a happy median: Fix Lithia-Pinecrest

Having grown up on her father's Lithia dairy farm, Tammy Bracewell knows well the virtues of rural living.

In fact, she has resided in Lithia since 1969 and still lives in a home on her father's property.

"I can remember when we drove 11 miles to get to a grocery store and just as far to go to high school," Bracewell said.

Bracewell's fondness for those wide open spaces may come as a surprise to some who oppose the widening of Lithia-Pinecrest Road.

As president of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce, Bracewell is pushing hard to help the project gain approval — even in the face of opposition that claims she and the chamber want to alter the character of neighborhoods along the road.

The HDR engineering firm is nearing completion of a project development and environmental study that recommends turning the two-lane artery into a four-lane divided road from Lumsden Road to Fishhawk Trail Drive.

From State Road 60 south to Lumsden, and from Fishhawk Trail Drive east to County Road 39, the road would receive enhancements but remain two lanes.

People who wade through traffic on Lithia-Pinecrest during peak hours long for such an improvement.

Opponents, many of whom are residents who live along the corridor between Lumsden and Bloomingdale, say they understand the traffic problems because they live them every day. But they want improvements that will satisfy the current needs and not add to future growth.

For one of those residents, Lynea D'Angelo, the problem with the proposals is the width of the road. She's convinced traffic could be improved without the proposed 22-foot median, bike paths and sidewalks.

In short, she says it's just too much.

"It will destroy whole neighborhoods," said D'Angelo, who has battled proposed retail developments on a number of fronts in the neighborhood. "We don't need a Dale Mabry going down Lithia-Pinecrest."

Critics also suggest the chamber and its pro-business members want more growth and development, so it's natural that it would advocate for the road widening.

Bracewell said the chamber asserted its leadership role to help fix the area's traffic problem; not to promote growth but to improve the quality of life for what already exists.

"With all the developments that have come out there, you have to have ways to move people," Bracewell said. "Progress has happened, and we can't go back. It's there.

"I think it's hard for people to believe we're doing something we think is the right thing to do, but that's it. There's no hidden agenda."

Theoretically, however, the widening could bring more growth. Consider the 19-acre parcel bordered by Lithia-Pinecrest, Brooker Road and Valrico Road.

The County Commission rejected a controversial commercial rezoning proposal for the property last month, citing a lack of infrastructure to handle the 4,500 cars the area draws on a daily basis.

A widening of Lithia-Pinecrest could alter that reasoning.

Still, Bracewell argues the projections from the study clearly indicate the road's problems would become more severe if nothing is done. HDR surveys indicate that by 2038, it will take 56 minutes to cover the 6.8-mile trek from Fishhawk Trails Drive to Lumsden Road.

The present delays and future traffic jams are why comments being gathered on the study's Web site (lpcstudy.com) are running 70 percent in favor of adding more lanes. But this is about more than just getting to work on time in the morning or pulling into the driveway 30 minutes earlier at the end of the day. Emergency vehicle access and safe roads are a tantamount consideration.

D'Angelo counters that the study's traffic projections may be flawed because it's not taking into consideration other road proposals. She believes the traffic on Lithia-Pinecrest will decrease if road widening on Bell Shoals Road and Boyette Road go in first.

"Go fix the other roads before, and then let's see what our need is on Lithia," D'Angelo said.

Ultimately, you can't be cavalier about the road widening's impact on growth management and property values. After all, 35 businesses and residences would have to be relocated because of the project, including 25 between Lumsden and Bloomingdale.

Planners should explore alternatives to provide relief without so much disruption.

However, doing nothing or arguing about other roads is not acceptable. Lithia-Pinecrest needs a sensible fix that addresses current traffic problems but doesn't change the character of the neighborhoods.

Somehow, the two sides have to find a happy median. Pun intended.

That's all I'm saying.

Find a happy median: Fix Lithia-Pinecrest 02/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:47pm]
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