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East-west corridors being considered have drawbacks

Among them: Most will not improve traffic flow along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002


NEW TAMPA -- The objective of the east-west road has always been clear: Relieve traffic congestion along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Yet, two of the three construction possibilities that the city is now considering do nothing to improve the flow of traffic through the heart of New Tampa: along Bruce. B. Downs from Bearss Avenue to County Line Road.

"From the perspective of meeting that study objective, only one option does," said Ron Gregory, a vice president with the consulting firm URS Corp.

That one option is corridor B, which would hit Commerce Park Boulevard adjacent to the new Freedom High and Liberty Middle Schools, he said. Traffic projections indicate that the road will see 26,900 vehicles per day.

After months of data collection, engineers and planners have a better indication of each option's feasibility and its potential to become the yellow brick road out of gridlock.

The city expects to decide which option to pursue at the end of the month. URS data show that building in corridor A would have an impact on New Tampa residential communities and building in corridor C would affect environmentally protected areas.

Not building a road, the fourth option still being considered, would eventually overload the entire New Tampa transportation network as the area's rapid growth continues. URS Corp. forecasts that by 2028, if an east-west road does not exist, Bruce B. Downs, Cross Creek Boulevard and portions of Livingston Avenue and Bearss Avenue would be overloaded.

Corridor A, which cuts through part of Tampa Palms, would relieve traffic congestion on Bruce B. Downs closer to the University of South Florida but not around I-75, according to the URS analysis. Traffic totals around the interchange would be worse with corridor A than with no east-west road at all.

Corridor C, which runs along the northern edge of Hillsborough County, would be a boon to Pasco County drivers but would do little to cut down commuting times for New Tampa drivers south of the county line.

Planners are six months into a 30-month study. The city and state are paying URS Corp. $2-million to conduct the study.

Mahdi Mansour, an engineer with the city, made it explicitly clear that a final decision has not been reached. But, he said, "The numbers and charts speak for themselves."

Building in corridor C would disturb a greater floodplain area, which acts as a natural sponge to help store excess rainwater. Corridor C also is in an area that is not fully developed, meaning its construction might induce more growth and more traffic.

An even bigger hurdle centers on 10 acres along Cypress Creek that are part of the Hillsborough County Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program. Federal, state and county laws require that the county receive compensation, a new swath of protected space, if the land is built on. But planners may not be able to find enough land to make an equal swap.

"It's pretty clear that corridor C has some serious problems," said Gregory.

At $82-million, the price tag for C is about 60 percent higher than either corridor A or B.

Tampa Palms residents voiced strong opposition to corridor A. In a recent city survey, 157 written comments were against the road compared with 15 in favor. They cited the corridor's proximity to Lawton Chiles Elementary School and the potential danger it posed to young children.

"Anybody with a lick of sense, who's studied this issue for more than 10 minutes, sees that the only conclusion that makes any sense is corridor B," said Mark Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Tampa Palms Community Development District.

Corridor A could require the relocation of seven Tampa Palms homes that might cost between $3-million and $4-million.

Corridor B would not affect any existing homes, but would bring traffic into West Meadows. At $45-million, it would be the least expensive to build by $5-million. In addition, if corridor B is chosen, the city has already reached an agreement with Lennar Homes to acquire the right of way in exchange for about $14-million in impact fee credits.

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-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com

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