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Road widening to be discussed

Getting in and out of Town 'N Country can be like navigating an obstacle course of construction and overcrowded roads. But to offer some relief, county officials must first offer more inconvenience.

Officials are ready to begin the designs for an $8-million project to widen Memorial Highway, one of Town 'N Country's main thoroughfares and a major artery in northwest Hillsborough County.

More than 34,000 vehicles a day travel Memorial between Hillsborough Avenue and Eisenhower Boulevard _ about one-third more than the road is designed to handle, officials said.

But when the project is completed in five years, Memorial Highway will have been expanded from four lanes to six.

What may be a boon to motorists, however, may not necessarily be good news for businesses and property owners in the path of the project.

"I saw what it did to Waters (Avenue)," said Rick Gillispie, the owner of Co Co Cuts, a hair salon on Memorial Highway. "It's going to be bad for business. When they tear up the road people are going to avoid us."

Several business failures along W Waters were blamed on the widening of that road, a lengthy and troubled project that blocked access to many merchants.

But county officials said they learned their lesson, and there will not repeat the mistakes made along Waters.

"We have definitely heard the outcry and the desire from the public," said Steve Valdez, an engineer with the county. "All construction that Hillsborough County does now is much more proactive with the citizens rather than to react to problems."

To that end, the county will hold a public meeting June 26 to discuss the proposed road widening and elicit residents' views. That kind of dialogue should be helpful, said Lillian Rudolph, the vice chairman of the citizens advisory committee to the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"The homeowners need to wait and see what the actual road design will be," Rudolph said. "If their access road is left in one piece, they won't have such a problem."

Some merchants like Madeline McMorrow, the manager of Supreme Pool Supply on Memorial Highway, are viewing the proposed road widening philosophically.

"It's progress, and you have to do it whether people like it or not," McMorrow said. "The people who have houses aren't going to like it but this is a business district like U.S. 19, I don't care what people say."

And some people are questioning the need for the project.

"They've got Independence Boulevard, I don't see why they even need it," said Stan Krick, a Town 'N Country civic activist. "They're dragging those homeowners through the worry period without saying what their plans are. They need to find out if John Jones will still have a house or not."

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