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Truck route plan revs up controversy

If you want to start an animated conversation in Westchase, just mention the county's proposal to extend truck routes into the 2,000-acre subdivision.

The plan _ created by a nine-member committee over 11 work sessions _ would allow trucks to more freely travel Countryway Boulevard from Linebaugh Avenue to Race Track Road, and Linebaugh from Countryway to Race Track. As it is widened, Race Track between Linebaugh and Countryway also would be added to the route.

The recommendation further would require that trucks remain on the countywide route until they get to the exit point closest to their destination, and then return to the closest truck route after leaving _ neither of which is currently required.

"We think it's going to lessen the truck traffic in their community," county transportation planner Bill McCall said, referring to Westchase.

Many residents have strong doubts.

"If you're planning on running trucks through there, someone is going to get killed," said Bob Phifer, a father of young children who has lived in the subdivision's Greens village for seven years.

He noted that Westchase was designed to encourage walkers, bicyclists and others to use the roadways, and suggested the idea of adding trucks to the mix is not compatible. Besides, Phifer said, the roads already are choked with minivans and other vehicles during the day.

"It's crowded without trucks," he said, adding that he often travels, taking 7 a.m. airplane flights to avoid the congestion that begins early in the mornings.

He's not alone in his concerns.

Patrick Bingham, who lives in the Shires village, also ridiculed the idea.

"Already, it's difficult to get out, particularly to turn left onto Countryway," Bingham said.

He did not buy the explanation that the changes would reduce truck traffic into Westchase. Trucks illegally go on Linebaugh or through the neighborhood now, he said.

"A number of trucks won't know, won't care or are just too stupid, and they'll be breezing through the neighborhood," he said. "It's just not good. They can go around."

Charlie Gauzza, a six-year resident of the Kingsford village, found the notion of bringing trucks to the area particularly irksome because of past community debates involving placement of a library in the Upper Tampa Bay area.

Residents fought to keep the library away from a light industrial site on Race Track Road because of trucks, he said, instead winning a location along the more residential Countryway.

Now the county wants to put trucks where the library will open, and also near busy Bryant Elementary School, he said. If that happens, he guessed, the county won't stop trucks there.

"The next phase will be to turn left from Linebaugh to Sheldon," Gauzza said. "Better to stop it now."

Truckers aren't too keen on the proposal, either.

They're particularly opposed to the language change that would require them to remain on the truck route until they reach the point closest to their destination.

In northwest Hillsborough County, that provision will create a hardship because there's just not much of a truck route there, said Alan Payne, president of Riverview-based Florida Trucking Co.

Under the existing plan, Payne said, trucks leave the route at Gunn Highway and Van Dyke Road and travel back toward the Westchase and Nine Eagles area, where lots of construction continues to occur. The new rules would force trucks to follow a more circuitous route to get to the same place, he said.

The end result, Payne predicted, will be higher trucking costs to build subdivisions, which ultimately will be passed to home buyers.

"Why not let us take the shortest route to get there from the truck route?" Payne wondered.

McCall, the county transportation planner, said the advisory committee tried to strike a balance between the divergent interests, and to create a workable and enforceable plan. It's not a cure-all, he said, and it might help some areas while hurting others.

For instance, he explained, by requiring trucks to exit and enter the truck route at the closest point to their destination, trucks could end up roaring through some residential neighborhoods they otherwise would not have traversed. He quickly added that he did not believe that would be the case for Westchase.

Most people _ including many law enforcement officers _ misunderstand the purpose of the truck route rules, McCall said.

Without a route in place, he said, trucks are free to travel anywhere. With a route, trucks are required to follow it, keeping them off the other roads except when headed to a specific point.

"It works the opposite of the way people think," McCall said. "When you get rid of the truck routes, you don't get rid of the trucks. You get rid of the controls."

Still, he did not expect to convince many people during public hearings on the plan. Rather, he figured to receive requests to remove even more roads from the route.

It's quite a different scenario from past efforts to amend the decade-old rules.

Public hearings from those times drew small crowds, and little to no written comment. This time, McCall said, active community associations have turned the issue into a hot one.

"This is the first time we've gotten this much attention," McCall said.

Truck route meeting

Hillsborough County will have a public hearing on the truck route proposals at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Westchase Elementary School, 9517 W Linebaugh Ave. It also will accept written comments at: truckrouteplan/truckcomments.cfm