Work is expected to begin this month on the much anticipated project to widen Bell Shoals Rd. between Bloomingdale Ave. and Boyette Rd.
County representatives spoke to residents about the $65 million project at a public meeting at Bloomingdale High School last month, emphasizing the goals of the project, especially to improve safety and mobility along the heavily traveled 3.1 mile stretch of road.
“This project has been 15 years in the making,” said Project Manager Tommy Rawls with the Hillsborough County Public Works Department. “Our number one priority is the safe completion of the project in the most reasonable time frame possible.”
According to Rawls, the county is planning to start relocating utilities in the area in the next month while construction companies bid for the widening project. The actual widening is expected to begin in spring 2019. At that time, another public meeting will be scheduled to inform residents of the timeline and specific phases of the project, although current data suggests that the widening will not be complete until 2022.
Plans include widening the stretch from two to four lanes with landscaped medians and a bike lane and sidewalk in each direction. The existing bridge over the Alafia River will be widened and upgrades are also planned for several traffic signals and storm water drainage areas. A new traffic signal will be installed at Starwood Ave. and pedestrian safety features will be enhanced, including upgrades to comply with current ADA regulations.
According to county representatives, funding for the project comes from several sources, including approximately $8 million from the Community Local Gas Tax, $27 million from the Community Investment Tax, $4 million from the Public Utilities Relocation Fund, $10 million from the general and other reserve funds and $16 million from developer Newland Communities.
Residents were told to expect heavy equipment and excavation, resulting in normal construction noise. In some areas, traffic lane closures may be necessary and drivers are urged to observe all traffic control measures and be aware of potential shifts in traffic patterns.
Citizens at the meeting expressed concerns over how the construction will affect the already frequently overcrowded roadway.
“As a bus driver for the Hillsborough County school system, I understand that something needs to be done to widen the road, I just hope that the construction will be handled in a way that keeps everyone safe and makes it as easy to travel the road as possible,” said Beth Kinnard, a resident of the Oakdale community who drives through Bell Shoals seven times a day when school is in session.
Hillsborough County Engineering Services Manager Leland Dicus answered these concerns stating that part of the construction agreement stipulates that two-way traffic must be maintained for the duration of the project to minimize the input on drivers.
An additional resident concern brought up at the meeting deals with the new medians which will restrict turns in to some communities on Bell Shoals Rd.
Hilary and Richard Eklund who live in the Indian Hills community are concerned that making only one option to turn left out of their 77-home neighborhood will cause safety issues, especially when high school and middle school students are at their bus stop.
In response to this issue, Dicus sites numerous meetings the county planned with local HOAs and neighborhood groups.
“We have put a lot of time and effort into placing the access points with a goal of balancing safety with ease for residents,” he said. “Going from a two-lane road to a four-lane road naturally means that turn options will be decreased. We feel that we have come up with the safest and most efficient plan possible.”
Residents are encouraged to submit questions and find additional information on the project at www.HCFLGov.net/CountyProjects or by calling Public Works at 635-5400.