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Lumsden request: widen roadway

There's usually nothing like the phrase "road widening" to strike terror in a suburban heart. But most of the nearly 200 people who went to a meeting Wednesday night to discuss the widening of Lumsden Road were there in support of the project.

"The people I talked to were real concerned about the project not going," said Bill Laslo, project manager for the $5-million program to widen Lumsden from two to four lanes between Kings and Lithia-Pinecrest roads. Construction is expected to start next fall and last for 14 months, he said.

The residents have reason to worry. While the county makes its plans to widen chronically congested Lumsden, one of just three east-west routes through Brandon, consultants for the Crosstown Expressway extension also are eyeing Lumsden. They're thinking about running the toll road along Lumsden, through it, or both.

"Lumsden will be torn up, and $5.1-million of taxpayers' money will be wasted," said Al Fernandez, a Brandon resident who has started the latest of several citizens groups against the Crosstown extension.

Fernandez's group, Committee Against the Crosstown Hookup by Way of Lumsden (CATCH) announced its presence by passing out fliers on Brandon streets Wednesday suggesting that residents attend the county's meeting.

Fernandez is advocating a Crosstown route that runs between Lumsden and State Road 60. He argues that tearing up Lumsden for the time it would take to build the Crosstown extension would be an extreme hardship to the community. Consultants have said Fernandez's route is impractical, but he plans to appeal directly to members of the Expressway Authority on Monday.

Greg Janes of Brown & Root-Genesis, the Expressway Authority's consultant on the project, said it is too soon to say precisely where the extension will go. Engineers have narrowed down their preferred choices to three different routes, two in the area of Lumsden and one in the area of State Road 60. But they have yet to identify precisely where the proposed road would go within those corridors.

The expressway authority is scheduled to make a final decision next November.

Still, Jack Kitko of the Brandon Crosstown Action Committee, who has been following the Crosstown process since it began, is convinced the road will go on Lumsden, much to his dismay.

"When you discuss (State Road) 60, they always come up with the reasons why it shouldn't be done. If you mention Lumsden, they come up with reasons why it should be done," he said of the consultants.

Laslo, the county's project manager for widening Lumsden and Kings Avenue, said Lumsden is in such bad shape that the county cannot delay the project until a decision is made on the Crosstown.

"What we've got is a road here that needs to be done because of traffic and safety problems," Laslo said. The widened road will include turn-lanes at intersections and a median to improve safety.

Estimates on how long it will take to build the Crosstown range from six or seven years to never, as one option is not to build it at all, authority officials have said.

"We can get Lumsden built and get a lot of years of useful service out of it, even if someone decides to disrupt certain parts of it" with the Crosstown, Laslo said.