Several years ago Hillsborough County came to the rescue of frustrated North Pinellas motorists by rummaging around to find a traffic light to install at the intersection of Race Track Road and Forest Lakes Boulevard, where motorists were risking their lives to get out of Forest Lakes and onto congested Race Track Road.
Hillsborough is doing it again.
This time, Hillsborough is planning and paying for major improvements to Race Track Road that will ease the hassles of motorists from both counties who jam that road daily.
Horse-racing fans owe Hillsborough a vote of thanks too. The plans call for Race Track Road to be rerouted to the west side of the parking lot for Tampa Bay Downs. Currently, the road is between the parking and the track, so fans have to cross the road and motorists from both directions are held up as fans walk past.
The Hillsborough project will realign about 130 feet of the road to the back side of the parking lot, making the lot and the track on the same side of the road.
Race Track Road has been a mess for many years. Explosive growth in Oldsmar and in northwest Hillsborough, especially after construction of the Citrus Park mall, meant that traffic counts exploded, too. Race Track Road, which parallels the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line before turning northeast into Hillsborough, bore the brunt of the traffic overload.
To its credit, the Hillsborough County Commission decided the road had to be fixed. The work began in Hillsborough, but there was no quibbling when it reached the Pinellas portion. The project will continue all the way to Tampa Road in Oldsmar.
The first phase of the project — widening the road to four lanes for almost 2 miles from S Mobley Road to Countryway Boulevard in Hillsborough — is finished and already making a difference for motorists. The second phase, widening the road to four lanes from Countryway to Forest Lakes Boulevard, is under way.
The third phase is the one that will help in the Tampa Bay Downs area. It will create a six-lane divided roadway from Forest Lakes Boulevard to Douglas Road. Construction will begin this summer and take more than a year to complete. The fourth phase, which won't be finished until 2010, will continue the six-lane divided road to Tampa Road.
As with any road construction project, there will be some inconveniences. The most substantial one will be at the Forest Lakes Boulevard/Race Track Road intersection, which will have to be closed for a few weeks while the roadbed is elevated.
Commuters to Hillsborough County who have been using Forest Lakes to access Race Track Road will have to find an alternative during that time.
Motorists' patience during the construction period will pay off. Within two years, they will see a wider, less congested and safer Race Track Road.