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Price of east-west route goes less than expected

The road, which would connect Bruce B. Downs Boulevard with I-275, will cost far less than original estimates, a top transportation official said.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


WEST MEADOWS -- Building an east-west connector road in New Tampa will cost about $17.8-million, significantly less than original estimates, the city's top transportation official said this week at a community meeting about the proposed route.

The revised figure bolstered supporters' claims that the road can be built feasibly without endangering the environment. Previous estimates put the 23/4-mile extension of New Tampa Boulevard through West Meadows at anywhere from $30 million to $80 million.

"This was supposed to be the first road built out here, not the last," James Davison of Hunter's Green told a crowd of about 600 people Tuesday night at Wharton High School.

City Councilman Shawn Harrison said the lower cost makes the project more viable as a toll road. The Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority could cover half of the cost through tolls, and government agencies could pay the rest.

"I've known all along that the prices that were being quoted by opposition groups were highly inflated," he said. "If everybody pitched in their fair share it would be something that would be very affordable."

The east-west road would connect Bruce B. Downs Boulevard with Interstate 275. It's been on the books since the 1980s, but never pursued largely because of criticism from environmentalists and residents of West Meadows.

The $17.8-million figure takes into account concerns about the Cypress Creek Preserve near the proposed route, Tampa Transportation Manager Elton Smith said. The estimate includes money for a long bridge that may be needed over ecologically sensitive areas.

Environmentalists weren't convinced. They urged officials to work with the community on alternative routes that don't affect the watershed.

"We know this single road is not going to solve transportation problems out there," said Beth Connor of the Sierra Club. "This is a small fix to a very big problem."

After hearing passionate pleas for and against the route, regional planners agreed to consider funding a $1.5 million planning, development and engineering study to build the road. The Metropolitan Planning Organization's board will take up the issue in two weeks.

"It seems to me that everyone ... should want to see us go ahead with the (study)," Harrison said. "That's the only way to find out if there's going to be environmental and safety problems."

Residents of West Meadows argue the four-lane road would cut their community in half, threatening the safety of children crossing the street. They asked the planning group to delete it from its long-term transportation plan.

Others called on the board to ban approving any new development until more roads are built.

"Find solutions to transportation problems without sacrificing our community," said Mary Vien, secretary of Citizens for West Meadows, a group formed to fight the road. "Rest assured that we will not stand by and let you destroy it."

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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