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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Bruce B. Downs motorists enjoy construction-free travel, for now

TAMPA — Brad van Rooyen of New Tampa said he enjoys the daily commute on the newly completed eight-lane stretch of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Three years of cluttered traffic, barricades and shifting travel lanes along the thoroughfare from Palm Springs Boulevard north to Pebble Creek Drive were the price of progress, he said.

“It was as bearable as any road construction project can be,” van Rooyen said.

The next phase of the Bruce B. Downs Boulevard widening should begin in the spring and take about 2½ years to complete.

Construction will span a 3.6-mile stretch from East Bearss Avenue north to Palm Springs Boulevard in Tampa Palms. A contractor has not been selected for what is expected to be about a $27 million project funded by Hillsborough County, state and federal dollars.

Once known as “the road to nowhere,” Bruce B. Downs, which extends from Fowler Avenue in Tampa to State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel, has become one of the area’s busiest roads. County statistics show 60,000 vehicles travel Bruce B. Downs through New Tampa daily.

Hillsborough is leading the effort to ease traffic on the county-owned four-lane road.

“We are inching ever closer to transforming (Bruce B. Downs Boulevard) into the corridor residents there so desperately need,” Hillsborough County spokesman Steve Valdez said.

The boulevard will be widened to eight lanes with sidewalks and a paved multiuse trail. The plan also calls for wide shoulders to accommodate bicycles and sets land aside for future transit use.

The four-segment road widening is being done in three phases.

The first phase, from Palm Springs Drive to Pebble Creek Drive, was 3.4 miles long and construction ran from January 2010 to March of this year. The project cost $37 million.

The next phase, from Bearss Avenue to Palm Springs Boulevard, should be completed by 2017.

The project’s third phase, a 1.5-mile stretch from Pebble Creek Drive to the Pasco County line, is in the funding stage. Construction of that segment is planned for late 2015 or 2016, Valdez said.

The county has acquired six properties needed for the leg of the project scheduled to begin in the spring, county project manager William Alford said.

County officials had hoped that phase would be underway by now. But the public works department staff decided first to complete the land acquisitions and deal with underground utility issues, Alford said.

For now, work on the southern segment is focused on completing the design and documents needed to put the project out to bid by March, Alford said.

When construction begins, residents of Tampa Palms, an affluent community of subdivisions, shopping plazas, banks and office buildings on both sides of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard north of the University of South Florida campus, are likely to experience an increase in traffic backups, road barriers and uneven travel lanes.

Community leaders already are discussing ways to preserve the community’s signature look while the roadwork is underway.

The Tampa Palms Community Development District Board of Supervisors, the taxing authority that manages the community’s common areas, has hired landscape architect Hardeman-Kempton & Associates to create a multiyear, multiproject design to help with the makeover of community entryways.

“We are ready to go,” said Maggie Wilson, a consultant to the Tampa Palms Community Development District. “A lot of things are going on here.”

The district is adding trees and shrubs to thicken the community’s buffer and moving an irrigation system farther away from the construction area, she said.

Van Rooyen, who endured traffic congestion and dusty road conditions near his West Meadows community during the project’s first phase, encouraged motorists and area residents to remain calm during the early weeks of construction, because it gets better.

“It should go pretty smooth, if everybody plays nice,” van Rooyen said. “It becomes a part of your daily routine when people get used to the lane closures.”

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