By Kevin Brady
It’s always Halloween at Big Bend Road and I-75. The traffic horror show that fills drivers with dread is one of the worst areas in the Tampa Bay area for backups during morning and afternoon rush hours.
But Christmas is coming, earlier than expected.
County officials say long overdue upgrades to the roadways, including widening Big Bend Road and lengthening the southbound I-75 off-ramp, notorious for backups, will now start in 2021, with a projected completion date in late 2024.
Work will begin in earnest next year with a project development and environmental study to be completed by late 2019, according to county documents released last week.
Highlights of the plan include:
• Widen Big Bend Road from a four-lane divided road from Covington Garden Drive to Simmons Loop to six lanes, including enhanced pedestrian, bicycle and bus facilities
• Improvements to I-75 interchange to be designed and constructed by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)
• Reconstruction of bridge on Old Big Bend Road
• Reconstruction of bridge on Big Bend Road
• Signal improvements at Covington Gardens and Simmons Loop
• Enhance pedestrian safety features, including wide sidewalks and enhanced crosswalks and signals
• Improve storm water drainage
Ronnie McIntyre, who last year launched an online petition to improve the roadways in the area, had mixed emotions after the announcement.
“I’m glad they’re going to expedite (the project) and made the choice to put on the new on-ramp … which was still up in the air four or five months ago … it was a conceptual thing, but not necessarily funded … now it seems like they’ve actually come up with the money to do it. So I was happy … disappointed that it’s not sooner, but at least it is going to be done in the next five years,” said McIntyre, whose petition has garnered more than 4,300 signatures.
The petition was born of frustration, McIntyre said. “I just got so frustrated every time I got on the interstate; it is just so challenging and took so long. You have to double your time to go anywhere because you never knew (sic) how it was going to be trying to get to the interstate,” said McIntyre who lives in Summerfield just off Big Bend Road. He’s been a South County resident for 28 years. “You kind of expect it early in the morning between 7 and 8:30 a.m., but there are times even on the weekend when it’s a bear.”
The improvements are a case of too little, too late for Riverview’s Brenda Jones, a fourth-generation Floridian.
“We moved here in March of 1993 with every intention of staying forever. I moved out here to get away from overcrowding and traffic,” said Jones who is moving to a 55-acre property in Georgia. “It took 20 years, but it has caught up. I built my house with the intention of staying here the rest of my life. I was born and raised in this state, and now I have to move to another state. My property in Georgia will work fine. We hardly see any cars at all until I get to town (there). They need to stop building everything until infrastructure can catch up, but that won’t happen. I definitely can’t live here anymore. Most days I don’t leave my house because of traffic.”
Jones believes the county pays little attention to South County. “Hillsborough County Commissioners have never cared about the county, only the city. Otherwise, they would have never approved of all of this building. And there are thousands and thousands more houses going up.”
Jaime Terry, a South Fork resident, is glad the project’s timeline has been moved up.
“I think it’s great that the work will start sooner rather than later, especially with so many homes being built in my neighborhood and others. However, I hope the rush doesn’t mean the planning is rushed and not well thought out. To handle the massive growth in Riverview any roadway project needs to be done correctly to make it work well into the future.”
Originally planned in two phases to be finished by 2026, the improvements are now all part of one project with funding from Hillsborough County ($53 million), the Florida Department of Transportation ($8 million) and the federal government ($1.5 million). The county is also applying for a $25 million Build Grant for the project and additional FDOT funding to offset county costs.