Views of a wider Veterans vary

A hearing produces joy about private land, worry about noise.

Published November 17, 2006

Doubling the width of an expressway is never easy. But in the case of the Veterans Expressway in northwest Hillsborough, it appears a necessity.

Since it opened in 1994, traffic on the toll road has doubled to 63,000 vehicles a day. Transportation officials expect that to double again in 10 years.

Terry Griffin, who lives near N Dale Mabry Highway and Van Dyke Road, wonders if it will take that long.

"I've been driving on the Veterans for three years, and my drive time has increased about 45 minutes," Griffin said. "Every month or two the backup gets worse."

The Veterans, in fact, is so popular that planners for Florida Turnpike Enterprise have undertaken a $525-million project that would widen the toll road from four lanes to eight from Memorial Highway to N Dale Mabry Highway. The remaining 3 miles to Van Dyke Road would be widened from four lanes to six.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping the on- and off-ramps where they are while controlling project costs.

Part of the solution is to replace manual toll plazas with an all-electronic collection system for the 12-mile stretch between Memorial and Van Dyke. The widening then could be accomplished with an added lane on either side of the road as well as one on either side of the medians. As a result, there would be little need to take private property for right of way.

The strategy came as a great relief to Thomas and Emma Hall, who have lived on Keystone's Patterson Road for 51 years. The Halls feared that the turnpike would seize some of their land, "but they never said how much," Thomas Hall said. "Now they're not going to, and it feels good."

Not everyone is happy, though.

At a public hearing Tuesday in Citrus Park, there was talk of noise and concern about insufficient buffers.

"My neighborhood went from a serene setting to noise that is ever-present," said Richard Hurley, who lives near the Westfield Mall in Citrus Park. "It has affected my way of life, and the widening will make it worse."

Planners studied 22 areas for potential noise problems and determined that widening the road would affect seven. Only those areas would be eligible for noise abatement measures, such as sound barrier walls.

Some at the public hearing complained that the studies were conducted when trees outnumbered homes.

Jeff Stevens, whose home backs up to the expressway, wondered why upscale neighborhoods like Cheval were afforded noise abatement walls while others, like his, were not.

Those interested in submitting more comments can do so on the turnpike's Web page before Nov. 27. The study phase is scheduled for completion early next year. A construction date has not been set.

Jackie Ripley can be reached at ripley@sptimes.com or at (813)269-5308.



To learn more

For more information about the project, visit www.veteransexpresswaywidening.com.