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Land bought for East-West Road

(ran East edition)

If the proposed East-West Road offering direct access to Interstate 275 is built, the city of Tampa won't have to look far for land.

On Thursday, the City Council approved a $1.4-million deal to buy more than 400 acres of road, drainage and ponds from Lennar Homes.

The purchase does not mean the $96-million roadway will be built, Tampa traffic engineer Mahdi Mansour said. The city is still awaiting results of a study from Florida Turnpike Enterprise, the agency that operates the Veterans Expressway and the Suncoast Parkway.

Last year, the turnpike expressed interest in partnering with Tampa to build the East-West Road. Transportation experts have said the road is necessary to relieve congestion from Pasco and Hillsborough counties along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

The turnpike authority agreed to pay for a study to determine how wide the road should be, how many bridges and ramps the road would need, how much traffic the road could handle and how much toll revenue that traffic would generate.

As of Friday, turnpike spokeswoman Joanne Hurley said the agency wasn't done with its study.

"We haven't quite finished our research yet," she said. "We hope to by the end of this month and then we'll go ahead and schedule something with Mayor (Pam) Iorio."

If the East-West Road is not built, the city can sell the land back to Lennar or another buyer.

Still, Mansour said the sale was "one heck of a deal." Long ago, development agreements between the city and the developers of Tampa Palms set aside the land for a future purchase. City officials set aside $1.6-million in this year's budget for the East-West Road.

The price dropped to $1.4-million after Lennar offered the city a discount for agreeing to construct a two-lane segment of Commerce Park Boulevard from Liberty Middle School and Freedom High School to a proposed New Tampa Boulevard bridge.

The $200,000 surplus will stay in New Tampa, Mansour said.

Not all of the land the city bought Thursday will be dedicated to the East-West Road project.

Some is necessary for the Cypress Preserve Drive extension, while the rest is needed for the New Tampa Boulevard extension, a 0.7-mile, two-lane bridge crossing Interstate 75 and ending at Commerce Park Boulevard. That project is estimated to cost $9.5-million.

Mansour said the city will close on all the newly acquired property within 90 days. During that time, an environmental inspection of the land will be conducted.

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or rthrashsptimes.com.

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