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Upgrade will preserve road's rural nature

A $700,000 project will widen Newberger Road and keep its country character.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002


LUTZ -- Hillsborough County commissioners approved a $700,000 plan this week to add 4 feet to the width of Newberger Road, a winding country road frayed by rising traffic.

Neighbors along the road praised the plan, grateful for both the help and for the fact that the road's country character wouldn't be challenged by more ambitious proposals such as sidewalks and tree removals.

"It looks like they're going in the right direction," said one neighbor, Jeff Means.

The road work is to be completed gradually over two years to keep it within existing budgets, said Michael McCarthy, a county public works engineer who directs the traffic division.

Although his staff had pegged the costs at $718,440, McCarthy said, "I feel pretty comfortable it will be less."

Tuesday's 6-0 vote ended a 13-month debate over Newberger that featured nearly as many twists and turns as the road itself.

It started with a proposal early last year for a 129-home subdivision along the road. Neighbors split over the project, with most opposed. Planners unanimously endorsed the development, saying it fit with the area.

But in July, county commissioners defeated it, citing Newberger's narrow road bed and crumbling edges. Then by November, the developer found provisions of county law that would allow 126 houses without a rezoning.

An outcry ensued. County commissioners were helpless against the development, but they commissioned a close look at the problem road.

Engineers concluded that Newberger's 8-foot lanes not only made the road substandard for its current traffic of nearly 1,200 vehicles a day, but contributed to maintenance problems: drivers navigating Newberger's 10 curves are running off the edges and crumbling them.

The county received 16 maintenance requests in the past two years.

"After two or three weeks and some rain, one cement truck wipes out the whole edge of the roadway," said Al Perotti, a neighbor.

The county also clocked many speeders often driving faster than 40 mph on the 25-mph road. But McCarthy noted the speeding was on the straightaways, "certainly not on the curves. That's not physically possible."

The county's upgrades are to include:

Widening Newberger to 20 feet, from an average of 16.

Adding stripes along the edges, and raised pavement markers along the center line.

Adding a left-turn lane for northbound traffic turning from Livingston Avenue onto Newberger.

Installing underground equipment at that intersection for a future traffic light.

Asking Tampa Electric Co. to add street lights there.

Evaluating Newberger for traffic-slowing devices milder than speed humps.

Adding drainage structures at Newberger's intersections with Livingston and Rhodes Wood Acres.

-- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

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