People who live in Tampa Palms and West Meadow have always enjoyed a mutual respect as distant neighbors.
Though the two subdivisions are a stone's throw apart, a ribbon of traffic running north and south on Interstate 75 has made the devide seem farther.
That will change in late February, when Tampa transportation officials stage a ribbon-cutting ceremony to debut the $12.4 million New Tampa Boulevard road extension and bridge project.
The new I-75 overpass bridge, which will link New Tampa and Commerce Park boulevards near Freedom High, will serve as a gateway between Tampa Palms and West Meadows for the first time.
The new extended road will carry two-way traffic between Tampa Palms and West Meadows to help "blend those two neighborhoods," Tampa Transportation Manager Jean Duncan said.
With the completion of the interstate overpass project, frequently referred to as the New Tampa Boulevard Bridge, the span over I-75 will provide an alternate route to Bruce B. Downs through New Tampa.
However, the bridge will not offer direct access to the interstate.
Work on the I-75 overpass project has coincided with the eight-lane widening of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard from Palm Springs Boulevard to Pebble Creek Drive. That stretch of the Bruce B. Downs widening, overseen by Hillsborough County, is expected to be completed by April.
Construction of the new bridge did not occur without controversy.
The long-planned project followed 10 years of delays, lengthy debates and lawsuits to connect the master-planned communities of Tampa Palms and West Meadows.
West Meadows resident Evelyn Romano and her attorney, Warren Dixon of Tampa Palms, who were unsuccessful in their legal attempt to derail the project, said Tampa Palms and West Meadows residents wanted more safety measures.
Despite legal challenges, the city won county approval to build the new bridge and road extension.
The Tampa City Council hired Tampa-based Prince Contracting to build the 0.7-mile road extension and bridge in 2011. Kisinger Campo and Associates designed the bridge.
The bridge will be built wide enough to carry up to four lanes of traffic, but striped as a two-lane road.
The span's decorative design will include black vinyl fencing, planters, sidewalks, a bike path, lighting, storm sewer drainage and landscaping.
The extended road on both sides of the bridge will feature a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the south side and an 8-foot-wide multiuse trail on the north.
The walking and bike paths will allow users to cross I-75 without having to access busy Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Construction workers also widened two-lane Commerce Park Boulevard fronting the Freedom High and Liberty Middle school campus to become a four-lane divided thoroughfare.
The city plans to install traffic signals near the high school in Tampa Palms and at New Tampa Boulevard and Wood Sage Drive in West Meadows to control the expected increased traffic.