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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: I wish I had invested in road construction barrels

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One of these years, all the road construction will be finished in Hillsborough County.

Maybe.

After all, this is Florida, where our state motto ought to be: If you can see it, you can pave it over.

The latest bit of cheery news for commuters was atop the front page of Friday’s Metro section here at the Trib. Engineers plan a study on widening U.S. 41 for eight miles through the southern part of Hillsborough and, well, I think I know how that will end.

The study will conclude that part of the county is growing so rapidly that the current roads aren’t adequate for the number of cars that will be using them. They will widen the road from four lanes to six. Actually, I could have told them a long time ago they needed to do that.

About 15 months ago, I got a guided tour through the Balm area in south Hillsborough. Once the exclusive residence of rattlesnakes and wild boars, the escort took me and Tribune reporter Yvette Hammett through the back roads of rural South Hillsborough, stopping every little bit to point out another housing development that was under construction or soon would be.

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One of my favorite spots was a fancy development they were building next to a landfill. Seriously — right next to it. Homeowners can look out their windows and get a scenic view of what the natives call Mount Balm.

I remember asking where the roads were to handle the newcomers.

“There aren’t any,” our guide said.

Now, our tour was closer to U.S. 301, and I guess that means there will soon be a study to expand that, too. After all, one project doesn’t finish around here until a new one begins, and finding a quick way home to the suburbs becomes more elusive than the holy grail.

It’s a lot more coveted, too, especially if the estimates of 200,000 new residents for east and south Hillsborough by 2020 are accurate.

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Here’s the punch line.

The U.S. 41 study will take about a year to complete, and it will probably conclude that a couple of important bridges need to be replaced and the road needs to be wider.

By the way, there is no money for those roads yet.

Imagine that.

The county seems to be slipping back to the 1970s and ’80s, when everything green soon vanished under layers of asphalt and concrete. That ineptly managed growth led to a lot of the problems we have today.

Where I live in Brandon, there are housing developments sprouting like mushrooms after a thunderstorm. State Road 60 through the heart of Brandon is a parking lot most any time. If the county has a sensible growth plan, I am not seeing evidence of it.

So we build communities with hundreds of houses. Then we realize too late that existing roads can’t handle the growth, so we tie up traffic for a few years while we expand the roads. The growth keeps coming, though, and those roads are inadequate by the time they are complete.

I just wish I had thought years ago to start a company that makes those road barrels. I’d be rich by now.

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