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Two counties deal with traffic woes

What to do about the Bruce B. Downs bottleneck? A group begins to decide.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


CROSS CREEK -- Hillsborough and Pasco counties are teaming up for the first time to tackle transportation problems affecting people from New Tampa and Wesley Chapel who rely on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Residents and government planners met Tuesday night in New Tampa to talk about ways to reduce congestion as people pack new subdivisions on both sides of the county line.

"If we don't work together in forming the infrastructure, we're all going to suffer," said Jim Davison of Hunter's Green.

Many New Tampa residents have blamed Pasco County motorists for contributing to traffic problems on Bruce B. Downs. Pasco County residents, in turn, say New Tampa has not helped them attract new jobs that would prevent people from having to drive south to work each day.

"We don't have an economic development council. We are a bedroom community," said Russ Miller, who heads the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. "We need some good solid businesses."

Forming the New Tampa transportation working group offered all parties a chance to voice their views, said Pat Bean, Hillsborough's deputy county administrator, who led the meeting. The idea came up during a town hall meeting last year in New Tampa.

"Let's look at each other eye to eye and let's see what the problems are," she said.

In recent years home buyers have flocked to communities such as Meadow Pointe so they can commute to Tampa while paying Pasco's lower property taxes. Many shop in the Hillsborough County side of New Tampa and take advantage of government services, including the library.

Representatives from both counties said thinking beyond borders and cooperating on shared issues, including roads, are essential toward solving problems.

"County Line Road has to be considered invisible," said Don Nevins, chairman of the New Tampa Transportation Task Force.

Pasco County activist Jennifer Seney said both counties must coordinate transportation and development plans to avoid sprawl. Hillsborough County also needs to recognize that Pasco prefers to stay more rural, she said.

"We don't want Raymond James Stadium in the middle of our county," she said. "We are not yuppies. We're not urbanites. We have citrus and cattle farms."

Frank Margarella of Hunter's Green said that for any plans to work, Pasco County must take a more active role in transportation-related issues affecting both areas. Past efforts have failed because Pasco has not stayed involved or educated about projects, he said.

"I can see the passion of Pasco County, but I don't see the representation," he said.

The group agreed to create a map over the next several weeks showing which developments have been approved in each county and what transportation improvements are planned. The committee will meet again in late July or August.

Elton Smith, Tampa's transportation manager, said the parties must follow through on agreed upon road connections, regardless of market and political pressures. Previous plans collapsed largely because developers could not sell commercial centers, and instead built residential neighborhoods that did not have adequate roads.

"This is a massive area with very few connectors," said Smith, who remembers when Bruce B. Downs ended at the county line. "We're stringing it all on Bruce B. Downs, and it doesn't work."

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463.

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