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FDOT says county, developers responsible for next step in roadway improvements

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image For right now, the Southbend mall exists only on the map.

Although state and county planners have on their future maps, none of these plans are funded.

By PENNY FLETCHER
 
As development continues along the Big Bend corridor, traffic gets worse.

During morning and evening rush hours, sitting through three or four changes of “green arrow lights” to enter the northbound ramp of I-75 is not unusual. Worse yet, backups on the Interstate at the southbound exit ramp often extend well beyond the deceleration lane, pushing exiting cars into a stopping position in a line in a moving lane.

In an October 2013 interview about improvements in this area, Michael Williams, county engineer, explained the plans for alleviating this by widening the exit ramps were anchored by an agreement made between the county and area developers.

Although this still has not changed, now new short- and long-term plans to build two new ramps (and later a cloverleaf) are also in the works.

The problem is that none of these plans are funded, although both county and state planners have it on their future maps, one of which is included with this story.

The next moves are up to the developers of the new mall, which will be called Southbend and lies  directly to the south and southeast of the Waterset community on the south side of Big Bend Road.

Waddah Farah, FDOT’s project development and technical analysis administrator, explained that when the Florida Department of Transportation did the Master Plan for the transportation system that runs through all of Hillsborough County, it broke down needs into short-term goals, dated for 2015, and long-term goals, dated 2030.

During the Master Plan phase of development planning, County Commissioners voted that private developers would pay for some of the improvements as they developed land in the area, in cooperation with the county’s public works personnel. 

At that time, the economy was booming and a mall — the name of which was not known until now — was expected to break ground within months.

But mall developers have not yet found enough anchor stores to begin, and so the site work has not been done.

Meanwhile, some other improvements are slated to be done although timing depends upon funding, Farah said.

“First will be lengthening of the southbound deceleration lane [for the Apollo Beach exit of I-75 at Big Bend Road] by 1,200 feet, and Big Bend will be widened from four lanes to six between Covington Gardens to the off-bound ramp. Then, in the future, the Waterset community has agreed to pay for the construction of another off-bound ramp that will greatly alleviate any traffic exiting the Interstate to go to their development, or to the other things that will be built in the area in the future,” he added.

So the way it now stands, FDOT is waiting for the county and developers to fulfill their part of the plan, while it makes plans for State construction as traffic in the area continues to build.

Much rests on the development of the mall, which is planned to be larger than Westfield in Brandon. When last interviewed in the fall, developers stated they were waiting for anchor stores to sign on before beginning site clearing and utility work.

But two additional Interstate ramps are eventually planned for Big Bend Road — as well as the widening of existing ramps — because of the heavy development eventually coming in.

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