NEW TAMPA — City officials have decided to build a $20-million bridge over Interstate 75 here, even though the future toll expressway to be served by it has been shelved.
"What didn't go away is the city's obligation to build that bridge," said Steve Daignault, Tampa's administrator for public works.
Council member Joseph Caetano agreed, despite fears in his own neighborhood, Tampa Palms, that the bridge will fill a major street with cut-through traffic.
"We should carry through on it," Caetano said.
Daignault said the city's obligation is rooted in development agreements signed in the mid 1990s with developers of New Tampa's large, master-planned housing communities. State law required that sufficient road networks be in place, or planned, to accommodate those developments, and the bridge was vital in at least two of those deals, he said.
Daignault and a half-dozen other city officials described the city's new position in a meeting arranged by Caetano on Tuesday at Freedom High School. They encountered a hostile crowd of 40, dominated by Tampa Palms residents who fear the bridge could turn Tampa Palms Boulevard into a popular bypass around Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
"How do you do that to us?" asked Warren Dixon of Tampa Palms. "What can you be thinking?"
Tampa Palms Boulevard is a lushly landscaped, four-lane loop road connected at several points to New Tampa's collective headache, Bruce B. Downs. The expressway, before sinking under a $155-million price tag, was meant to carry commuters around Bruce B. Downs and Tampa Palms.
Residents voiced worry that the bridge would let motorists dodge Bruce B. Downs by driving through Tampa Palms, past three schools and a park.
Gene Field, president of the Tampa Palms Community Development District, urged that the city renegotiate the development agreements, or wait until Bruce B. Downs is widened to eight lanes, then check whether the bridge will be needed at all.
Bill Edwards, president of the Tampa Palms Owners Association, called the proposal "a monstrous waste of money, when times are hard."
In recent months, the city has lowered the bridge's projected cost by $2-million, as construction prices slide. Officials said Tuesday that the bridge would not be completed before Hillsborough County finishes making the midsection of Bruce B. Downs eight lanes, scheduled to start in February. But the bridge would open before two more phases of the widening are completed, including the southern stretch bisecting most of Tampa Palms.
Julia Cole, senior assistant city attorney, said she wasn't sure whether the development deals contained deadlines for the bridge's construction.
Said Daignault, "I'm not so sure anybody's in a big rush."
Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or [email protected]