By Kyle LoJacono
It’s a two-lane road that winds through the rural community, with only a few dim streetlights to help keep drivers on path and out of barns, horse fields and cow pastures. There are no bike paths or sidewalks and only a few turn lanes to make travel easier. Mix in an increased number of drivers looking to get to and from work while avoiding the congested Suncoast Parkway/Veterans Expressway and I-275, and the combination becomes perilous for those who frequent Gunn Highway in Odessa/Keystone.
The Hillsborough County Planning Commission has been looking for ways to make Gunn safer for years and recently unveiled five options to make the country roadway a little less dangerous for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
The proposals were presented recently to the Keystone-Odessa Advisory Committee.
Three of the options leave Gunn virtually untouched, while instead improving the streets that feed into the highway, such as Van Dyke and S. Mobley roads. All three do add sidewalks, curbs and bike and turn lanes, but keep Gunn as a two-lane street.
Another proposal would widen the Suncoast/Veterans from four to six lanes, which would help with traffic flow and would likely make it a better option for those traveling through Hillsborough and Pasco counties, according to planning commission principal planner Pedro Parra.
The final option is to leave the area as it is.
Many in attendance said they wanted to leave the roadway alone to avoid the headaches that come along with road construction. Many also feel a more developed roadway will take away from the rural nature of the community.
“I kind of like the do-nothing approach,” said Sam Prentice, who has lived in Keystone for 35 years. “We like it rural; we want to keep it rural.”
Jim Swain, president of the Lake Keystone Property Owners Association, and one of those who helped write the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan, said that desire to “keep it rural” has been a big part of the association since its founding. He has in the past advocated to keep Gunn as it is, but has started to come around on the idea of updating the snake-like highway.
“There are pressing problems up here,” Swain said. “You can’t walk. There are no sidewalks. We have mobility issues. And with the county’s thirst for development, you just get traffic, traffic and more traffic.”
Swain said frequent traffic accidents, many that include pedestrians and bicyclists, are what have begun to change his thinking on the matter. He said he wants the county to enforce slower speed limits as well.
The planning commission is using the community’s reaction to the options as a way to decide what to include in a larger plan for the area.
“This plan in and of itself isn’t going to solve problems,” Parra said. “But you can use it as a tool.”
Money has not yet been designated for the project. No work would likely begin until sometime late next year, according to Parra.
Odessa/Keystone residents will get to vote on which option they like. Then after three public hearings this fall, the results will be included in the community plan for the area.