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EAST-WEST ROAD ALMOST HERE!

More than 63,200 drivers crowd Bruce B. Downs Boulevard every day, all coming and going in the same direction: somewhere other than New Tampa. The road's intended capacity is nearly 30,000 below that. In other words, traffic on Bruce B. Downs is every bit as bad as people say it is.

Fortunately for New Tampa drivers, the long-awaited East-West Road should be completed within the decade. Relief is on the way.

Or is it?

For as long as the St. Petersburg Times has had a North of Tampa section (nearly 10 years now), we've been writing about plans for this 3-mile connector providing an alternate avenue from the midpoint of Bruce B. Downs to Interstate 275. We've tried to keep readers apprised of all the updates, but we understand if every new headline leaves you a little skeptical.

Honestly, we're a little skeptical, too. But since our job is to report the news as it happens, we're required to keep the East-West Road concept afloat as each new development occurs. This includes the many, many delays, aborted initiatives and price increases that have turned the East-West Road into an epic rather than a news event.

It has been said that those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. So in that vein, we've decided to revisit some actual past articles and ponder projected future ones about this long-proposed road.

And if on occasion you get the feeling you're reading another Dewey defeats Truman or Gore wins Florida ... trust us, we understand.

Headline: Developers plot course for New Tampa Blvd.

Published: May 26, 1996

The plan: Winding its way through West Meadows, New Tampa Boulevard was to be the first phase of the I-275/Bruce B. Downs Boulevard connection. An end to bumper-to-bumper traffic was finally on the horizon.

The problem: The Sierra Club wanted to protect the sandhill cranes and wood storks. West Meadows residents formed an alliance to stop the road from slicing through their community. Hurricanes, skyrocketing oil prices, a building boom in China and the tsunami in southeast Asia raised the cost of concrete and steel.

What happened: The road's original estimated price of $30-million was raised to $96-million, then $120-million, and is now up to $141-million. By the time you've poured your morning coffee and read this article, feel free to tack on another $10-million or so.

Headline: New study says tolls will pay for East-West Road

Published: March. 1, 2004

The plan: Hooray! The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority released a report (costing $35,000) confirming Tampa's hopes that the road's costs would be covered by its tolls. Then the Florida Turnpike Enterprise took on the project and did another study looking at a $1.25 peak-hours toll before reconfirming that, yes, this just might work.

The problem: The Turnpike Enterprise doesn't do $1.25 tolls. Too high, it said. And besides, the $1.25 tolls still don't cover the cost of operating and maintaining the road.

What happened: The Turnpike Enterprise dropped the project, and the Expressway Authority came back into the picture. "We would certainly like to make a run at it," said Ralph Mervine, the Expressway Authority's interim executive director. "The project certainly deserves another strong look."

Headline: Private investor a possibility for I-275 connector

Published: Jan. 24, 2006

The plan: Like a gift dropped from heaven, a new funding concept came to light in Florida. The Legislature passed a bill allowing public-private partnerships ("P3s") to pay for new road construction. The P3 plan opens the way for the East-West Road to become the state's first privately funded road, joining the ranks of the 8,000-mile Trans-Texas Corridor and major roads in Canada and Europe.

The problem: By 2007, potential deep-pocketed investors like Microsoft and Coca-Cola pull out of negotiations after they wonder how much bang they can get for their buck on a 3-mile road used solely by New Tampa drivers. Also, area transportation officials have such a hard time wrapping their heads around the P3 concept, several explanatory workshops over two years slow down the road's progress.

What happened: New Tampa commuters, their patience exhausted, consider picketing in protest when traffic on Bruce B. Downs triples by 2008. They abandon the idea because they're no longer sure which government agency to hassle.

Headline: HARTline adds six new buses to express route

Published: Sept. 15, 2007

The plan: Fed up with hourlong, white-knuckled commutes along a 4-mile stretch of Bruce B. Downs, New Tampa residents demand solutions to traffic woes as they wait for the East-West Road. HARTline adds six buses to its existing New Tampa route and expands its Park-n-Ride lots in Pasco County and New Tampa. On the first day of the expanded service, City Council member Shawn Harrison and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio sing karaoke and pass out balloon animals as riders climb off the bus downtown.

The problem: Because of liability concerns, HARTline closes its Pasco Park-n-Ride two days after it opens, leaving all four Pasco riders stranded one morning.

What happened: Fed up with hourlong, white-knuckled commutes to get to the New Tampa Park-n-Ride, Pasco riders give up. HARTline decides the extra buses cost too much and scales back to two buses per day.

Headline: County adds exclusive lane to Bruce B. Downs widening

Published: Oct. 16, 2010

The plan: In another attempt to ease New Tampa commuters' frustration, Hillsborough County decides to integrate a new two-tier system of roads called "Lexus Lanes" into its Bruce B. Downs lane expansion. Drivers willing to spend an extra $5.50 toll and/or registered Republicans can enjoy a more free-flowing ride up and down Bruce B. Downs, bypassing the poor Toyota drivers who can't spare the change.

The problem: After the first phase (between Palms Springs Boulevard and Pebble Creek Drive) of the Bruce B. Downs widening is completed, it will be another four years before construction on the next two phases begins. The transitional gap creates a traffic bottleneck as all of the Lexuses and Toyotas get tangled together between Pebble Creek and Bearss Avenue.

What happened: After New Tampa Lexus drivers stage a walkout, creating a public relations nightmare, transportation officials abort the idea.

Headline: ExxonMobil-Netflix-Fantastic Sam's East-West McRoadway finally opens

Published: Aug. 20, 2028

The plan: At long last, the East-West Road becomes a reality! New Tampa drivers line up at the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority to register for their Sun Pass bar code tattoos. On the day the road opens, Gov. Ronda Storms is present for the ribbon-cutting, as well as Tampa Mayor Caitlin Iorio and Ronnie the Roadhog, a Florida Department of Transportation mascot created a few years earlier to spruce up the agency's image.

The problem: To cover the $1.2-septillion cost of building the road and to eventually make a profit, tolls on the EMNFS East-West McRoadway must be $44.50 at peak hours. West Meadows residents vow to continue fighting the road, along with school boundaries, cheaply made homes bordering their community and a strip club opening on New Tampa Boulevard.

What happened: The $44.50 toll doesn't deter New Tampa drivers. In fact, the McRoadway is such a success, the four-lane connector becomes jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic within the first couple of days. Commuters demand an alternative route. And they ask city officials to hurry.

New Tampa Boulevard, which runs through West Meadows before dead-ending here, would take commuters all the way to Interstate 275 if the East-West Road is ever built.

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