Supporters want road plan to be made a priority
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
CITRUS PARK -- When county transportation planners drew up their project priority list two years ago, a road expansion that makes sense to a lot of northwest Hillsborough residents barely drew attention.
But speaking before the Hillsborough's Metropolitan Planning Organization on Tuesday morning, local supporters dusted off the plans and managed to increase awareness about the proposed Citrus Park Drive extension.
"I'm asking you," said Upper Tampa Bay Alliance president Bob Argus, "what can we do to get this road built as quickly as possible?"
With so many projects ranked higher, MPO members and advisers told supporters that while raising the project's profile helps their cause, finding millions of dollars for it will not be easy.
The 4.5-mile project would create a new east-west connector in an area that has seen explosive growth in recent years. The extension would link Citrus Park Drive at Sheldon Road to a much smaller section of Citrus Park Drive to the west, north of Westchase off Countryway Drive.
Currently, the only east-west corridor in the immediate area is Linebaugh Avenue, which runs south of the proposed extension and bisects Westchase, a community of about 3,000 homes.
In addition to Argus, who represents a coalition of local businesses, Westchase Community Association board member Brian Delamer spoke out in favor of the project. Also representing the alliance, vice president Susan Edgerley tried to convince board members the extension would bring a host of improvements to the area.
In addition to shortening the drive time between the Westfield Shoppingtown Citrus Park mall and nearby subdivisions, it would provide easier access for emergency vehicles and offer another hurricane evacuation route for Pinellas County residents.
Edgerly also tried convincing MPO members the extension would create a greater sense of community by allowing more youngsters to walk to Davidsen Middle School and the planned Upper Tampa Bay library.
The proposal struggled to compete on a day when MPO members, selected from local governments and authorities, discussed longtime priorities, such as the expansions of 40th Street and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
During the 2001 review cycle, the extension ranked only 150th out of nearly 200 projects, said Joe Zambito, senior planning manager for the City-County Planning Commission. As a result, it was kept off the fundable projects list, although the status could change when projects are reassessed next year.
The new road would run primarily through county-owned property. Supporters said that should make the proposed extension more appealing. But Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Frank said the county still would have to pay its water department for property on the western end.
According to early estimates, the project would cost about $30-million, said Tom Thomson, director of Transportation Services for the Hillsborough's Department of Planning and Growth Management.
-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone/Odessa, University North, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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