GIBSONTON – A new north-south road is coming to relieve traffic along U.S. 301, but making way for it promises some short-term traffic headaches for a South Shore region already stymied by congestion.
The new road would run more than four miles from Gibsonton Drive south to Balm Road along a path that roughly coincides with Simmons Loop Road. But the work will require realignment near one major intersection along the way, at Simmons Loop and the Big Bend Frontage Road.
The project also will allow for the reopening of the northern portion of the intersection, closed since 2013 after the county determined its proximity to Old Big Bend Road was creating a safety hazard. The closure diverted east-west traffic to Old Big Bend for a stretch that runs more than a mile — another safety concern — from East Bay High School east to Lincoln Road.
The fix is as complicated as the problem, in part because Big Bend Road is the primary link between U.S. 41 and Apollo Beach to the west and U.S. 301 and Riverview to the east. Along the way are Interstate 75 access ramps.
South Shore is growing faster than any part of Hillsborough County and while most people acknowledgs that a realignment is needed, no one is looking forward to the disruption.
"I work at USF and so the commute to just even get on (U.S. 301) is about 30 minutes now," said Beth Taylor, who has lived in the area about 10 years. "We live a half a mile from the highway and it used to be a five to 10 minute drive."
Taylor said to avoid the traffic backlog, she and other motorists cut through Simmons Loop.
She and her husband, Duval, attended a Hillsborough County information meeting Oct. 10 at East Bay High to learn more about better routes to the interstate.
"I don't believe I found one," Taylor said.
Most people attending the meeting were concerned about how the realignment construction will add to the backlog, said Joshua A. Bellotti, Hillsborough County's director of real estate and facilities services.
Others, like Pam Provenzano, who moved to the area a year ago from Brandon to get away from traffic, are concerned with the pace of growth overall in the South Shore area. What once was a peaceful drive is now bumper-to-bumper traffic, said Provenzano, who lives in the Waterset community.
"If we knew it was going to end up like this, we may have never purchased a lot," she said.
To reopen the northern leg of the Simmons Loop/Big Bend Road intersection, the adjacent Simmons Road/Old Big Bend Road intersection must be shifted north to make room for turn lanes.
The realignment project would cut through property now owned by Hospital Corporation of America, Bellotti said. Another landowner, StreetFront Commercial Properties of Clearwater, has agreed to dedicate a portion of its property for right-of-way.
"We're trying to provide local, better access to Old Big Bend Road, improve access to the YMCA, to Vance Vogel Park and then to Bullfrog Creek further to the north," he said.
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The biggest traffic headache in the area right now comes from commuters trying to get onto Interstate 75 from Big Bend Road, Bellotti said. The Florida Department of Transportation is working with the county on a plan to rebuild the entire interchange but no timetable has been set.
The county says this project will need to be in place by 2040.
A vote is scheduled in December on a development by FrontStreet Commercial that would include land exchanges, transportation agreements and rezonings to allow for a hotel, gas stations and restaurants.
Contact Crystal Owens at email@example.com.