GIBSONTON — As choke points go, Hillsborough County is chock-full of them.
Carrollwood motorists have the Veterans Expressway at the Anderson Road tolls.
For New Tampa commuters, it's pretty much the entire length of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The bane of Riverview and FishHawk commuters: the Gibsonton Drive exit off southbound Interstate 75.
"It's jammed up, and it's every day," said Tom Brennan, 65, of Riverview. "From 5 to 6:15, it's pretty much backed up the whole way across the Alafia bridge."
The line of cars extends a quarter-mile or more onto the interstate. When motorists reach the exit ramp, some westbound commuters drive off the shoulder to navigate around the backlog waiting to go east on Gibsonton. On average, about 14,000 vehicles use that exit daily.
The Department of Transportation said it began planning a fix six years ago but lacked dollars to put the plan into action.
Now, the department says, the funding is in place. Come January, workers will start to revamp the exit and both entrance ramps to the interstate.
The $1.4 million project includes:
• A widened southbound exit ramp to accommodate more vehicles.
• A second left-turn lane at the bottom of the southbound exit ramp for eastbound commuters.
• A longer right-turn lane at the exit for westbound commuters.
• Longer left-turn lanes at both entrance ramps to handle more cars.
• Wider and longer merge lanes at the northbound entrance ramp to hold more vehicles during the morning rush hour.
• Improved traffic signals at the bottom of the Gibsonton exit ramp for eastbound drivers.
The project's main objective is to clear up the backups onto the interstate, DOT spokesman John McShaffrey said.
"That can be huge," he said. "The through traffic keeps moving, and then all of sudden you come up on that exit and it's moving very slow or stopped. People who aren't familiar with the area and not expecting that to happen, that's a bad situation."
It's a situation with which Jeremy Cianfrocca of Riverview is all too familiar. When Cianfrocca returns home from his auto detailing and refrigeration jobs, he opts to bypass the exit altogether and takes the U.S. 301 exit 5 miles north.
The detour costs him time and means dealing with traffic lights at Bloomingdale Avenue, Duncan Road, Lake St. Charles Boulevard and Riverview Drive. But, he says, "I'd rather do that than sit in traffic. I just want to get home."
The problem isn't confined to the exit ramp, commuters said. The entrance ramp to northbound I-75 gets equally jammed in the mornings with traffic trailing a half-mile or more onto Gibsonton Drive.
"It starts at 7:15," Brennan said. "Everybody gets in line real nice, and then all of sudden you see some cars trying to cut in at the very end."
That's when horns start honking and expletives fly.
"You have people pulling up real close to the car in front just so another car can't butt in front of them," he said.
McShaffrey said the project is set to start Jan. 3. He expects it to last about a year.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.