'Brandon Bypass' Is On Planning Map Again
RUSKIN - It's back. The on-again, off-again proposed superhighway around Brandon, Sun City Center, Apollo Beach and Riverview has been drawn on a long-range transportation planning map that could go to elected officials for inclusion in Hillsborough's Comprehensive Growth Management Plan. Alternately dubbed the Tampa Beltway or Brandon Bypass, the concept was approved in November 2004 by Hillsborough's Metropolitan Planning Organization. The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority announced it was pursuing plans for the roadway last year, then backed off early this year. No financing plan has been announced. Shown on draft maps for the proposed South County Transportation Plan, the six-lane highway would start just south of the Hillsborough-Manatee county line near Port Manatee and swing northeast through Wimauma and Lithia toward Plant City.Access ramps are drawn in around Port Manatee, at County Road 672 and Balm-Wimauma Road and at a yet-to-be-built intersection of Bloomingdale Avenue and Turkey Creek Road. It's not a road that Hillsborough County would build, said Ned Baier, Hillsborough's transportation planning manager. But he and consultants decided it should be included because of the MPO endorsement and a Florida Department of Transportation study aimed at developing highways to take the heat off overloaded interstates. 'The county is not the decision-maker on the bypass,' Baier said. 'We're just recognizing it on the MPO plan.' Study committees have approved the draft plan, which will be the subject of public meetings in Ruskin and Riverview Oct. 23 and 24. The plan had been expected to go to official review this fall but was postponed at the request of the planning commission, Baier said. He said the bypass component had nothing to do with the delay. The transportation plan, an update of a 2003 corridor plan, is expected to go to the county's planning commission and then county commission early next year. Mariella Smith, a Ruskin resident and Tampa Bay Sierra Club member, said she and others from Sierra dogged proposed comprehensive plan amendments and received no warning that the controversial bypass would be up for approval. 'This has been an MPO plan,' Smith said. 'It has always been a study. ... This is the first time it's getting carved into the stone of our comprehensive plan. It's a big deal.' She and others who want to preserve rural areas say the road will invite urban sprawl. She also questioned how approving only a portion of the beltway - the slice through southern Hillsborough - could be considered good planning. No end destination is shown on the proposed planning map. Keli Paul, a county consultant who ran computer models on various alternatives suggested by developers and local residents, said the bypass would draw a significant amount of traffic - up to 48,000 trips - from often-congested Interstate 75 north of Sun City Center. 'It took a lot of truck trips off I-75,' she said. 'There's definitely an improvement on I-75 and through that area with the bypass.' Paul said the bypass also reduced traffic 'a little bit' on U.S. 301, which is slated to be widened to six lanes from Riverview to Ruskin in the next five years. Pam Prysner, president of a 100-member organization called Rural Lithia Area Neighborhood Defense, said the wide route shown on the map appears to cross county- and state-owned preservation land and existing rural neighborhoods. 'I don't know how you're going to tell people, 'In 30 years, your home is going to be a highway,'' Prysner said. Baier said the corridors identified in the plan show general locations. Existing land uses and preservation areas would have to be considered when roads reach the planning and design phase. Besides the bypass, the proposal suggests setting aside corridors for rural road extensions in sparsely populated parts of Lithia and east of Wimauma. Smith said those roads will invite suburbs to move into designated rural areas, and she has been told the county has plenty of land available for development within its urban service boundaries for decades to come. Baier said the study looks ahead to projected build-out, possibly in the year 2050, when up to 520,000 people are expected to be living in south Hillsborough. Unless the county approves high-rise development not currently considered acceptable, he said, the urban service boundaries will have to expand to accommodate all the newcomers. Current estimates place about 150,000 people in Hillsborough south of Bloomingdale Avenue.
Reporter Susan M. Green can be reached at (813) 865-1566 or [email protected]