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Northeast Hillsborough left out of road work plans

Road work plans are disjointed

I attended Mayor Iorio's May 5 meeting on road construction plans for New Tampa and northeast Hillsborough County and with members of the city and county governments.

I was disappointed to see how disjointed and piecemeal the road planning is, not only among the groups, but within them. I was also disgusted at the apparent willingness to sacrifice a premier community of Tampa Palms in the planning process.

The Hillsborough County Level of Service Report for 2007 identifies the portion of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard from Bearss Avenue to the Tampa Palms area as the most failed section of county highway in the entire county. It carries 29 percent more traffic daily than it can handle effectively. Yet, no funding has been allocated to widen this portion of the road through 2025, even though the county already owns nearly all the right of way required for widening!

Construction will soon begin on the portion of Bruce B. Downs from the north end of Tampa Palms to Pebble Creek Boulevard, while the same county report identifies that segment at being only 3 percent over capacity. That widening is already planned and funded.

Construction is being funded and right of way acquired for the widening that will occur for the Bruce B. Downs segment from Pebble Creek to County Line Road, as soon as the segment to Pebble Creek Boulevard is finished. But the county says this segment is at only 81 percent capacity. The section can already meet its traffic load, but is being funded while the most failed road in the county is not!

Iorio observed that there is not a single complete project planned and funded for completion that will address northeast Hillsborough's traffic problems.

The problem is made worse because 47 percent of the traffic on Bruce B. Downs from County Line Road to Interstate 75 is from Pasco County. The Bruce B. Downs widening is funded by Hillsborough taxpayers. But priority has been given to moving Pasco residents to I-75 and back, while Hillsborough residents languish on the most failed portion of the road.

Even more, it is a critical road segment needed to move people from both northeast Hillsborough and Pasco County to emergency and hospital facilities at USF and at the Veterans Hospital, as well as serve the extensive nonmedical portions of the USF community and the commercial development already existing there. Leaving the south end of the road constricted will cause slowdowns in the widened segments, because not all southbound traffic will turn off at I-75.

Why? For one thing, the county wishes to use the city street of Tampa Palms Boulevard as the alternate to Bruce B. Downs, to avoid widening the south end of that road.

The first segment of the widening will terminate in the middle of Tampa Palms at the north end of Tampa Palms Boulevard and at Palm Springs Road. South of that are choke points; traffic seeking to avoid the slowdown will turn onto Tampa Palms Boulevard, causing backups and making exit of our neighborhoods difficult.

It will also divert highway traffic load to a city collector street, doing much to destroy the quality of life in one of Tampa's premier neighborhoods.

The threat to Tampa Palms is stronger because some in both city and county government are still pushing for a bridge connecting New Tampa Boulevard with Commerce Park Boulevard, which lets out onto Tampa Palms Boulevard one block from Bruce B. Downs. These planners are pushing for this $22-million bridge whether the related East-West toll road is built or not.

If it's not, which seems most likely, this bridge will dump heavy commuter traffic from Pasco and northeast Hillsborough into Tampa Palms again. Heavy commuter traffic will bypass four schools. Tampa Palms Boulevard becomes another Bruce B. Downs, and West Meadows also suffers from heavy traffic.

All this occurs because the county wants to sacrifice the city neighborhood of Tampa Palms to the residents of Pasco and northeast Hillsborough instead of widening the most failed segment of road in all of Hillsborough. This is unacceptable, and the counter argument that the costs are too high to do otherwise is specious.

As the south end of Bruce B. Downs languishes, the city plans to widen one end of Cross Creek Boulevard to Morris Bridge Road. The eventual plan is to spend $35-million to add turn lanes and lighting improvements to Morris Bridge, but to leave it at two lanes.

That will do almost nothing to relieve traffic on Bruce B. Downs! Worse, Pasco is undertaking a study to widen its portion of Morris Bridge to four or six lanes, dumping traffic once again onto inadequate Hillsborough roads, and let our taxpayers deal with it.

Other disconnected improvement projects fritter away more money, underscoring Iorio's comments that there is not one plan fully conceived and funded to address northeast Hillsborough's traffic. That all this could come out of a regional planning authority is laughable, if not tragic.

The solution? Widen the segment of Bruce B. Downs from I-75 to Bearss first, and to the segment from I-75 to Pebble Creek second.

The segment from Pebble Creek to County Line Road need not be widened at all, according to county data. Funding and planning for other disconnected, marginal projects should be tabled, and the effort concentrated on the most failed road segment.

Even if it is too late to delay the first stage of Bruce B. Downs widening, the north end project should be delayed and all funding reallocated to the south end.

And without the full East-West toll road being built, that $22-million should be reallocated for the community's real needs.

If not, we should ask much deeper questions as to why, starting with who benefits from keeping things as they are?

Warren Dixon, Tampa Palms

Northeast Hillsborough left out of road work plans 05/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 3:13pm]
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