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Road projects offer relief to New Tampa commuters

The highway improvements save residents time and make the area more attractive to potential home buyers.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 26, 2002


NEW TAMPA -- It's been a long time coming, and there's more work to be done. But the road improvements made in the New Tampa area have homeowners and home sellers honking with delight.

Three major improvements have been made. First came the opening of State Road 56 in February, smoothing the way from Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to State Road 54.

Then, the Cross Creek Boulevard extension, which provides a through street from Bruce B. Downs to Morris Bridge Road, opened in May.

And earlier this month, construction on an additional lane at the Bruce B. Downs exit from Interstate 75 was completed.

"I love it," Jennifer Granger says of the Cross Creek Boulevard extension.

Granger, who lives in Arbor Greene and works at Verizon, used to have to travel north on Cross Creek Boulevard, then west on Bruce B. Downs to get to I-75 and travel south to Fletcher Avenue. Now she simply takes Cross Creek Boulevard to Morris Bridge Road.

"It cuts my commute at least by one-third. It used to take 30 minutes to get to work. Now it's 20 minutes or less," she says.

Christopher Ray is another happy driver.

Ray lives in Cross Creek and works at an engineering firm in the West Shore business district, a commute that used to take him at least an hour. Now he gets to and from work in 45 minutes or less. For him, the big difference is the added lane at the Bruce B. Downs exit off of I-75.

"I haven't experienced any delays on 75 since they opened that up," he says. "It used to be on the way home, from 5 to 7:30, the traffic would be backed up almost all the way to Fletcher. You would come to a dead stop right after the Fletcher intersection."

The improvements are also good news for folks selling housing in New Tampa communities.

Arbor Greene marketing director Sharon D'Onofrio saw fit to include information about the improvements in the community's advertisements.

"We repeatedly heard traffic, traffic, traffic," D'Onofrio says. "For us it's very important that we get the word out that says it was an issue but it's not anymore. Traffic is an issue during rush hour anywhere you live in Tampa. But there certainly has now been a huge improvement made for us."

Bonna Hagan, who sells homes for U.S. Homes/Rutenberg in Heritage Isles, says the Cross Creek Boulevard extension has meant more people find the community on their own rather than through a real estate agent.

"They turn the corner from Morris Bridge onto Cross Creek Boulevard, and here we are," Hagan says.

In the past few months, Hagan says, she's shown homes to a lot of professors and students from the University of South Florida, which is easier to get to now that the final three-tenths of a mile of Cross Creek Boulevard has opened.

The extension had been in the works for more than two years, and was delayed many times.

"People were using it as a dirt road before it was even done. Some of them got tickets, but they used it anyway," Hagan says.

More improvements are on the drawing board for the area. The city of Tampa plans to add a traffic signal at the corner of Cross Creek Boulevard and Morris Bridge Road, and Cross Creek is scheduled to be widened to four lanes early next year.

"The one that's really going to make a difference for Cross Creek residents is when they make the improvements to the intersection at Bruce B. Downs," says Paul Ray, president of the Cross Creek Community Association, a member of the New Tampa Transportation Task Force and Christopher's father.

Ray worries that new communities -- such as Seven Oaks, K-Bar Ranch and the Grand Hamptons -- will bring in new residents before the road improvements to accommodate the additional people will be completed.

But he does believe that the work done so far has made a difference.

"The addition of the new turn lane, that's really helped keep traffic from backing up on I-75," he says. "And the Cross Creek extension does give you an alternative."

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