By Kyle LoJacono
The long-awaited bridge connecting New Tampa and Commerce Park boulevards will open to the public Feb. 27 at 10:30 a.m.
Construction began in May 2011, but the concept dates back to the 1980s, according to city of Tampa transportation manager Jean Duncan. She added that the roadway was part of the long-range plan for the New Tampa developments.
“The bridge is to give proper access to the area for the people to get across I-75 without having to go out to Bruce B. Downs (Boulevard),” Duncan said. “For those local trips where people want to go from Tampa Palms to the Publix in New Tampa, or from West Meadows to the Olive Garden on Tampa Palms (Boulevard), all those local trips can be served much safer on the boulevard rather than Bruce B. Downs through the I-75 interchange and all that construction. Driving through New Tampa, now it’s all about Bruce B. Downs and I-75, so this is one of the few projects that gives an alternative to using those roads.”
The bridge will also allow families in West Meadows quicker access to Freedom High and Liberty Middle, which the neighborhood is zoned for. A traffic signal was installed near the entrance of the student parking lot for the high school to allow vehicles an easier left turn onto the campus.
That signal will stay primarily green for through traffic during and after the school day and on weekends.
“Then when there’s traffic coming and going to and from the school at the start and end of the school day it will fluctuate to let more people go in and out of the campus,” Duncan said.
Duncan said there are no immediate plans to add a traffic signal on the West Meadows side of the bridge.
Construction and design comes with a $14.1 million price tag. The project includes the widening of Commerce from two to four lanes near Liberty and Freedom.
“The length is not long, but there was a lot that went into it with the structures that were involved and the construction technique,” Duncan said. “Any time you have a bridge, that’s much more expensive than a regular roadway.
“We feel like we did pretty well with the bid,” Duncan continued. “We were getting close to bidding it a few years ago when construction costs were really going through the roof. There was a concrete shortage and the asphalt costs were really high. If we had done it sooner it would have been a lot more. At one point our estimate was $24 million.”
Duncan said the bridge was paid for by impact fees collected from Tampa’s University North District.
“So, in a sense, the development has paid for it,” Duncan said.
The 0.7-mile bridge will open as a two-lane roadway that can be easily expanded.
“The structure built is wide enough for four lanes, but we’re stripping it as two lanes,” Duncan said. “We only want to do this one time, and sometime in the future, and that’s not on our radar now; we know at some point more than likely there might need to be a four-lane accommodation.”
Duncan said the new roadway also has sidewalks and bike lanes across its entire length.
The project had faced community opposition, including a law suit from Tampa Palms attorney Warren Dixon.
The main concern from residents was the connected roadway might encourage people to use the boulevards as a through traffic alternative to I-75 and Bruce B. Downs and lead to speeding. Duncan said every precaution has been taken to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“The bike lanes and the landscape medians are very effective traffic calming measures,” Duncan said. “The signage, the bike lanes and the narrow lanes are really the most effective traffic calming rather than speed bumps. That was part of our conversations with the neighborhoods that it was going to blend in with the areas and won’t be a bypass.”
Dixon has said he no longer opposes the project and dropped his suit after getting assurances safety measures have been taken.
“I do believe the communities up there are going to be pleased as soon as they see what the bridge can offer them as an alternative travel route,” Duncan said. “I think they’re going to be very pleased to see that this is really going to be an asset, something that’s going to benefit and improve emergency access to the area. Right now when there’s an ambulance or fire truck on Bruce B. Downs, they’re struggling through. It’s another opportunity to get quickly to the neighborhoods if there’s a need.”
Ali Glisson, city of Tampa public affairs director, said there will be a ribbon cutting Feb. 27 at 10:30 a.m. on the West Meadows side of the bridge near the intersection of New Tampa Boulevard and Meadow Pine Drive.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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