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Residents get a look at road-widening options

Three plans call for widening Bruce B. Downs to eight lanes, the most likely choice. But the price ranges from $65-million to $225-million.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002


NEW TAMPA -- Florida Department of Transportation officials unveiled four options for widening Bruce B. Downs Boulevard Tuesday, including one that would provide elevated express lanes between Interstate 75 and Pebble Creek Drive.

Three of the options call for widening Bruce B. Downs to eight lanes. A fourth, which would be a temporary fix, would be to widen the road to six lanes in the near future and plan for eight lanes in the long term.

"The intent of each would be to improve the traffic flow along the corridor," said Rick Adair, a senior project manager with the department of transportation.

Residents got their chance to see the plans last week at a transportation department workshop at Wharton High School. Sketches of the new roads and overhead photographs of a four-lane Bruce B. Downs road hung from the cafeteria's walls.

The first option, known as Alternative A, would convert Bruce B. Downs into an eight-lane road from Bearss Avenue to County Line Road. The cost: $65.7-million, the cheapest of the eight-lane alternatives.

Alternative B would also be an eight-lane road, but it would run between I-75 and Pebble Creek Drive. Planners foresee four lanes of elevated roadway that would allow New Tampa motorists to zip from the highway to Wharton High School without stopping at a traffic light. The concept would include four overpasses to improve traffic flow along the express lanes. At $225.16-million, it is by far the most expensive project.

Alternative C would be an eight-lane road with a 68-foot median that could accommodate either light rail or an express bus system. Price tag: $90.93-million.

The cost for each option would rise if the department had to acquire rights of way around ponds.

Construction of any project is unlikely to begin until at least 2006.

Transportation engineers also want to widen Bruce B. Downs to six lanes from County Line Road to State Road 54 in Pasco County, but they have not yet estimated the cost.

If planners concluded that they could not afford any of the eight-lane projects, they could opt for a six-lane road to hold motorists over until further expansion could be funded.

But that decision seems unlikely for two reasons. First, if planners decided to switch from six lanes to eight they would have to start from scratch.

"The $27-million in construction costs would be a total loss," said Ming Gao, Florida Department of Transportation project manager.

Second, department analysts have concluded that even at six lanes Bruce B. Downs, between Bearss Avenue and Richmond Place Drive, would be inadequate to handle congestion.

Gao said the department is considering putting in pedestrian bridges because eight lanes of traffic would make Bruce B. Downs difficult to cross. Possible locations remain undecided.

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

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