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Bruce B. Downs is No. 1 priority

The congested artery is the county's top pick to receive $15-million in federal money for widening.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


For years, New Tampa residents have cursed Bruce B. Downs Boulevard as the worst road around. Now the County Commission has agreed.

Commissioners recently named the main drag through New Tampa as the county's top pick to receive $15-million in federal funding, beating out Gunn Highway, which winds through Carrollwood, Citrus Park and Keystone.

"We want to make it clear that Hillsborough County says Bruce B. Downs is our No. 1 priority," Commissioner Chris Hart said. "We never said that before."

Hart took a helicopter ride with New Tampa residents a few weeks ago to see firsthand what the road looked like during morning rush hour. It immediately became clear that something must be done, he said.

"In some cases they are having trouble getting kids to school," said Hart, who lives in South Tampa.

The request seeks funding to widen Bruce B. Downs from four to six lanes in 2006-07. It could happen sooner if other sources of money become available, Hart said. The project, which could cost as much as $15-million, currently is not funded.

Putting the road first on the county's needs list helps, but it does not ensure that the county will get the money for it, said Lucie Ayer, executive director of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization. The agency still must review all of the projects requested and try to match them with whatever funding becomes available.

The MPO, which has members from the county, local transportation authorities and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, already has identified Bruce B. Downs as a priority in its long-range improvement plan. The county's designation gives it another boost.

"This is significant because there's the recognition that New Tampa has been exploding in terms of growth," Ayer said.

Transportation leaders in New Tampa said that while they supported any action that could improve the bad traffic situation, they cautioned that widening the road would not be enough.

"It was never our first priority," said Don Nevins, head of the New Tampa Transportation Task Force. "If you widen Bruce B. Downs, all you're doing is stacking up the traffic. Where does it go?"

He argues that New Tampa first needs the flyover connecting Bruce B. Downs to Interstate 75 and the east-west road linking Bruce B. Downs and I-275. Planners also need to take into account mass transit and future bus stops along the road, he said.

The city has identified nearly $71-million worth of transportation projects needed in New Tampa over the next six years. Of that amount, about $28-million has not been funded.

This year, government agencies and private developers are spending about $4-million on various studies and projects, including $1.2-million for a bridge over I-75 from New Tampa Boulevard in West Meadows to Commerce Park Boulevard in Tampa Palms. Completion is set for 2003.

More immediate improvements include the extension of the Highwoods Preserve Parkway to New Tampa Boulevard and the extension of Cross Creek Boulevard to Morris Bridge Road. The Highwoods project is almost complete. The Cross Creek project could take another six months. Private developers are paying for both.

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

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