Residents Rally Over Upcoming Bell Shoals Road Widening Plan Issues

By Tamas Mondovics

Area residents that travel daily on or live near Bell Shoals Rd. took to the streets last month to draw attention to their concerns over the county’s upcoming road widening project involving a 3.1-mile stretch of the roadway between Boyette Rd. and Bloomingdale Ave.

The need to express their thoughts was prompted after Hillsborough County confirmed its plans of the project during a public meeting held last month at the Boyette Springs Elementary School Multi-Purpose Room attended by close to 300 residents.

The start of the $19 million project, mostly funded by Newland Communities, is slated for January, 2014.

“The county is funding the cost of a new bridge over the Alafia River, but all other design and construction costs are covered by Newland Communities, which also will hire the contractor,” Project Manager, William “Reg” Alford, said.

Claiming an increase of the level of service, Bell Shoals Rd. will be widened from just south of the Alafia River to north of Bloomingdale Ave., from a two-lane, undivided rural road, to a four-lane, divided urban facility with two 12-ft. lanes for vehicles, a 4-ft. bike lane, and sidewalks in both directions.

Phase one will start with the expansion of the existing bridge over the Alafia River, followed by water, sewer and electrical utility relocation, which will also require the removal most of the age-old oak trees now enjoyed by many.

As is the case with many such projects, not everyone is pleased with the currently proposed design plan as well as the County’s approach and, lack of project notification.

“The meeting was the first time I have heard about this project, which seems to be all but decided to happen as planned without much consideration by local residents,” said Frank Harned, who has lived off Bell Shoals Rd. for more than 18 years.

Alis Foran was also concerned about the proposed design, which will not allow her and her Indian Hills neighbors to turn left onto Bell Shoals in order to travel north.

“We will be forced turn right and cross to the far left lane to make a U-turn,” Foran said. “I am also very concerned about the increased traffic at the entrance of our subdivision, which is also a school bus stop.”

“If this project moves forward as it is, we will lose our turn lane into our subdivision, which was paid for by the developer seven years ago,” River Woods HOA president Ken Mackenzie said. “The current design plan also takes away our chance to turn left onto Bell Shoals.”

Residents also emphasized their disagreement with the county’s free-flowing U-turn installation-policy as the remedy to the traffic problems.

“We feel that we have a good and safe alternative plan and hope that the county will listen to us after their findings,” Mackenzie said adding, “What we have in mind will work safely and also eliminate some of the length of the stacking lane they have also planned for River Rapids.

As an addition to safety and access concerns, many residents are unhappy with the loss of 100-year-old oaks trees along Bell Shoals, to be replaced with a grass median; all in the name of progress.

“This is not a highway, it’s our county road,” Mackenzie said.  “The county expects us to lose our natural environment for grass just to make the project cheaper for Newland. I feel we are being sold out, not to mention that many grass medians in East Hillsborough are not kept up or mowed.

The medians should at least, no matter where they go, try to keep the beauty that our rural road has now.”

Construction is to be finished within 18-24 months, as the road work itself and lane closers will not occur until work is completed on Boyette Rd., which is expected to be finished by April 2014.

For more information, visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org, or call 272-5275.