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Plans in the works for areas of Big Bend Road

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Economic downturn has held up improvements

Everyone who uses Big Bend Road, especially the North and South ramps onto I-75, knows the backup can go for almost a mile and move at such a slow pace you never know when you are going to get to your destination.

This is especially true between 7 and 9 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m. weekdays when people are heading to Brandon and Tampa to the north and Bradenton, Ellenton and Sarasota to the south to and from work.

Some days the backup on I-75 getting off at Exit 240, which says Apollo Beach but is also Riverview’s southernmost exit, is so long it extends way beyond the designated turn lane into a regular lane of traffic, so that if people driving south aren’t watching closely, they can hit the row of cars lined up on the interstate waiting to get on the exit ramp. It is a very scary place to be stopped, as one hit on the last car could easily pile up at least 50 cars, throwing some over the side of the two-foot cement barrier down onto Big Bend Road or off the side of the ramp.

This situation has occurred gradually, as the Big Bend corridor built up from a small two-lane rural road in the last 10 years as businesses built there to accommodate: eight new Riverview developments along U.S. 301; homes on Balm-Riverview Road (just east of those developments); and Covington Park, which is almost directly across from Eisenhower Middle School and East Bay High School.

According to Kris Karson, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, FDOT has plans for widening the exit ramp at Apollo Beach but most of the work on the ramps  — and on Big Bend Road itself — is the responsibility of developers and land owners.

The county, however, has jurisdiction over Big Bend Road (the state has it only over the interstate in that area) and has several plans in place.

Michael Williams, the county engineer, explained the plans in detail in a telephone interview Oct. 4.

“A while back, County Commissioners entered into an agreement we [the county] would pay for some of the pieces of that road [Big Bend] and developers would pay for some of it,” Williams explained. “The slowdown of the economy has stalled the mall’s plans.”

The mall, which plans to locate right around the area of the Interstate ramps on the south side of Big Bend, is supposed to help FDOT with the ramps widening and improvements, and also widen parts of Big Bend Road and put in turn lanes. The problem is that, since the last story on the mall was written, which said the developers were waiting for enough anchor stores to begin site work, the economic downturn has further affected it and plans to begin are still not made.

“The first site work would include the roadway needs,” Williams said. Site work also includes clearing, retention ponds, and underground utility installation.

There is no target date for any of this because the mall plans are now in a state of limbo, while waiting for anchors to sign up.

St. Joseph’s South has paid to construct the new road leading into its medical building and back to its hospital. The medical building opened in September and the hospital is due to open some time in 2014. St. Joseph’s is also paying for the traffic light now being installed at the entrance to its medical building at Simmons Loop and Big Bend Road.

The county is planning to install another traffic signal at the corner of Lincoln Road and Big Bend, even though those two signals will be less than a mile apart.

“It is a dangerous intersection,” said Williams. That intersection leads to both plazas on the south side of Big Bend that together contain about 40 businesses and restaurants and a bowling alley that has a bar and grill and family restaurant. A large apartment complex is also located at the end of Lincoln Road on the south side. 

The timetable currently set for this signal light, however, shows it won’t be in operation until the summer of 2014, as it is still in the study phase.

The county has also taken on the project of improving and widening the area of the bridge between Covington and the I-75 ramps.

Many residents ask about the mall that has been promised to be built on Big Bend Road that is expected to be larger than Westfield in Brandon. This is the mall referred to throughout this news story.

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