By KEVIN BRADY
Christmas shopping list: Toys for kids, honey-baked ham and aspirin for the drive to the Brandon Mall.
South County residents may be able to scrap the last item off that list this year thanks to a new four-lane road that will give drivers a new backdoor route to the mall and State Road 60.
Barring a hurricane, national disaster or a Kardashian wedding, the four-lane road should be finished by the holidays.
Ground broke on the project last October, a response to years of congestion around the popular Westfield Brandon mall on State Road 60 that is home to more than 100 businesses including Macy’s, Apple and Dillard’s.
One of the busiest intersections in the Bay area, the mall’s main entrance is one of only six county roadways equipped with a red-light camera. A testament to the congestion and frustration of drivers, the camera has the highest citation rate in the county.
“Due to the increase in residential and commercial development in the Brandon area, there was a need for an additional north-south corridor between State Road 60 and Lumsden Road (Causeway Boulevard),” according a county report outlining the project.
The project is on schedule, said C.T. Chen, a project manager with Hillsborough County’s Public Works Department.
“So far, so good,” Chen said. “Our completion date is Oct. 7 and we would anticipate being finished by then.”
The extension will handle about 20,000 vehicles a day, giving relief to congested roads near the mall, Chen said.
“It will definitely make a big difference especially around Christmas time relieving pressure around the mall because most people use just one way in and out now,” Chen said.
Local businesses are eager to see the road, according to Chen.
“We have spoken to the manager at the mall and the Hillsboro Memorial Gardens cemetery on State Road 60 beside the mall and they are all very positive about the road, the mall wants it open yesterday,” Chen said.
Martin Bebbington, owner of Euro Café, a European deli on State Road 60, has watched work on the project daily with a smile.
“I think it’s wonderful and long overdue,” Bebbington said. “The congestion around this area is especially bad around the holidays.”
Bebbington believes easier access to the area for drivers from places like Riverview will mean more business for him and surrounding stores.
“The traffic coming down that road will help because more people will now see we are here. [The new road] can’t come fast enough.”
Construction of the Gornto Lake Road Extension will also relieve congestion at the entrance and exits from Interstate 75 on State Road 60 as well as at the shopping mall, officials say.
The $3.95 million roadway will stretch for 0.7 miles from State Road 60 to about 800 feet south of Town Center Boulevard and has been on the books since 2006.
The road will give South County drivers a straight shot to the mall from U.S. Highway 301 and Bloomingdale Avenue along Gornto Lake Road into the mall’s rear entrance. The road is also expected to help with any new traffic associated with the new Bass Pro Shops store and Taco Bus slated to open on nearby Falkenburg Road, just north of State Road 60.
QGS Development Inc. .is handling construction of the road.