By KEVIN BRADY
A new four-lane road that will make driving from Riverview to the Brandon Mall less of a headache has opened more than a month ahead of schedule.
The much-anticipated Gornto Lake Road extension was set to officially open Sept. 24, following a mid-morning ribbon-cutting.
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.
Ground broke on the project last October, a response to years of congestion around the popular Westfield Brandon mall on SR 60 that is home to more than 100 businesses, including Macy’s, Apple and Dillard’s.
“Due to the increase in residential and commercial development in the Brandon area, there was a need for an additional north-south corridor between SR 60 and Lumsden Road (Causeway Blvd.),” according to a county report outlining the project.
The extension will handle about 20,000 vehicles a day, giving relief to congested roads around the mall, said C.T. Chen, a project manager with Hillsborough County’s Public Works Department.
“It will definitely make a big difference, especially around Christmastime, relieving pressure around the mall because most people use just one way in and out now,” Chen said.
The project had been due to open in October.
According to Chen, local businesses are eager to see the road.
“We have spoken to the manager at the mall and the Hillsboro Memorial Gardens cemetery on SR 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 SR 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.”
Mall officials are excited the new roadway will open early.
“We have been working with the county for some time to get this in place, and we are thrilled it is finally coming to fruition,” said Dawn Arvidson, Westfield Brandon’s marketing director. “It’s even better that it will be finished early.”
The new road will not only give shoppers an extra access point to the mall but will also alleviate some of the overflow traffic that frequently cuts through the shopping center. Drivers trying to reach SR 60 from Providence Road often use the mall as a short cut. They will now be able to use the new extension road.
“It will just be easier for people to now get in and out of our property. It’s certainly a positive for us,” Arvidson said.
Good weather, the absence of any major storms and the lack of any underground pipes have helped speed the project along, Chen said.
“The weather has cooperated and we have a lot less underground work to worry about with this road because it’s an extension and a new road. Even when the afternoon summer storms started we already had the blacktop in place, otherwise it might have washed out the work we had already done.”
Construction of the extension will also relieve congestion at the entrance and exits from Interstate 75 on SR 60 as well as at the shopping mall, officials say.
The $3.95 million roadway will stretch for 0.7 miles from SR 60 to about 800 feet south of Town Center Boulevard and has been on the books since 2006.