Nightmare on 50th Street

As most USF students know, driving down 50th Street can be more than a little hazardous. The traffic, the dangerous left hand turn onto both Fletcher and Fowler Avenue and the many potholes, can be a lot for motorists to contend with, leaving many to wonder when and if improvements will ever be made.

Mike Griffin, USF’s student body president, said he has been trying to get Hillsborough County officials to make changes to 50th Street and other roads around USF since last summer when he met with Commissioner Jim Norman.

“We discussed a few different areas we’d like to see improved around the USF area,” Griffin said. “I feel like it’s his responsibility to do something about it.”

For starters, Griffin said he would like to see a turn lane added onto the road.

“(Traffic) gets so backed up, mainly because there’s no turning lane,” Griffin said. “It’s not safe.”

While Griffin said Norman shared his concerns, Norman told Griffin the budget for the fiscal year had already been set and improvements to 50th Street were not included.

However, Griffin said this setback doesn’t discourage him.

“I’m confident that (changes) will come about,” Griffin said. “It is on a priority list and will come about.”

Commissioner Jim Norman was unavailable for comment.

Steve Valdez, Hillsborough County’s community relations manager, said the county has plans to fill in a sidewalk gap along 50th Street, but no other improvements are in the works.

“That’s all I know that is planned for 50th Street,” Valdez said.

Tom McLaughlin, spokesman for Hillsborough County Public Works, said while the county is still gathering more information on its planned road improvement projects, he hasn’t heard of any major construction taking place on the road either.

“There may be some project for 50th, but I’m not aware of it,” McLaughlin said.

According to Griffin, Norman did manage to get a work crew sent out to Fletcher Avenue and North Palm to re-paint the crosswalk two weeks after their meeting. Griffin said this helped to create a “much more defined crosswalk,” though his goal of getting an overpass crosswalk, similar to the one that connects USF to the Veterans’ Hospital, has yet to be achieved.

But plans to build a $1-million overpass sidewalk — with funds coming from state grants — connecting Pizzo Elementary School to the Museum of Science and Industry have been made, according to Valdez.

As far as the influence of commissioners on road improvement plans is concerned, both McLaughlin and Valdez said it’s limited.

“The commissioners can make suggestions just like any other citizen,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not a situation where a commissioner can say something’s going to get done and it gets done.”

Valdez agrees, saying the process from proposed project to actual construction doesn’t work like that. He said that projects move from concept to fruition based on priority and as money becomes available. Once the decision to focus on a particular road or intersection is made, then the county commission votes on whether construction will commence.

“There’s a mathematical calculation that ranks them all,” Valdez said. “We start at the top of the list and work down.”McLaughlin echoed Valdez’s statements.

“It’s a logical, numerical process we’re going through,” McLaughlin said. “As we become aware of problems, we put them on our priority list.”

It would appear that as long 50th Street remains under the radar of the county’s priority list, future improvements seem unlikely.

But Griffin said that doesn’t deter him from continuing the fight for improvements to the road and for the installation of an overpass crosswalk on Fletcher Avenue.

“Right now I want to concentrate on getting these two victories won,” Griffin said.