Road extension opens without a roar
By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
OLDSMAR -- After more than a decade on the drawing board and about a year and a half of construction, the Forest Lakes Boulevard extension opened Monday morning.
The 2.5-mile, 45-mph stretch connects to Linebaugh Avenue in Hillsborough County, giving drivers another east-west route between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and alleviating some traffic on busy Tampa Road. The new road cost $7.3-million and was funded by the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.
After waiting for so long, Oldsmar officials were somewhat surprised that the opening came with such little fanfare.
"You have to be kidding me," Mayor Jerry Beverland said Monday after he was told of the road opening. "After 12 years, they finally opened it. Hallelujah."
The project expanded Forest Lakes Boulevard to four lanes from Tampa Road. As the new road gets closer to Linebaugh Avenue, it narrows to two lanes.
On Monday, the road had little traffic and was a speedy alternative to the traffic lights and congestion on Tampa Road.
"For you to tell me the road's open, I'm smiling from ear to ear," said Kevin Gartland, president and chief executive officer of the Oldsmar/Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce. "It's hard to believe."
The extension should alleviate some congestion at the city's industrial area, just south of the new road. The area is notorious for traffic backups, especially during rush hour.
Officials began pushing harder for the Forest Lakes Boulevard extension because of the building boom at the Tampa Bay Park of Commerce. The new road bisects the commerce park, which has landed several big corporations during the past few years.
Two years ago, Uniprise, an arm of the UnitedHealth Group Co., opened a facility for at least 700 workers.
Nielsen Media Research is building a large corporate campus next to the Uniprise building, which is next to the new road. Nielsen has said it plans to move about 400 workers to the Oldsmar industrial area and possibly more during the next few years.
The new road "is going to make all the difference in the world," Gartland said.
"We have needed an alternate route to get in and out of that industrial park," he said. "It's been a logjam there for forever."
Because the new road connects directly to Linebaugh Avenue, the extension also should give Pinellas drivers a quicker route to the Citrus Park mall, allowing them to avoid Tampa Road and Race Track Road.
"It will give another route to get to the northwest part of Hillsborough County, alleviate Tampa Road and help people get into Pinellas County," said Paul Giuliani, an engineer for the Pinellas County Public Works Department.
Most recently, the project was delayed by a dispute between the county and the contractor hired to build the road, Giuliani said.
The extension also had been delayed because of difficulties obtaining state permits and determining the size of "critter crossings," pipes placed under the road so wildlife can cross without encountering traffic.
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