Road improvements under construction around campus’ perimeter

Construction of the new sidewalk on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard from USF Pine Drive to Fletcher Avenue is scheduled to be completed by December 2022. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Two traffic projects will soon begin on USF’s perimeter as a way to improve traffic and pedestrian safety in the area as part of Hillsborough County’s Capital Improvement Program.

One of the projects, which is already under construction, includes traffic signals at the intersections of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Richard Silver Way, which is the entrance to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, as well as at the intersection of Campus Hill Drive, according to Sandra Gonzalez, Hillsborough County’s site manager for the Capital Programs Department.

The county will also build a traffic signal at the intersection of North 50th Street and USF Holly Drive, replace the existing traffic signal at the intersection with Fletcher Avenue and build a sidewalk on the west side of North 50th Street intersecting with USF Holly Drive toward Fletcher Avenue. The project, which is still in the design stages, is set to start construction by mid-2023.

The construction near James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, which broke ground Sept. 1, includes a 5-foot by 4,400-linear-foot sidewalk on the east side of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard from USF Pine Drive to Fletcher Avenue. The construction is estimated to be completed by December 2022 due to a delay with the procurement of the materials, according to Gonzalez.

“To enhance and improve the safety of the users, especially both users being bicyclists or pedestrians along the corridor, it was decided to incorporate the construction and installation of the sidewalk as part of those two intersection improvement projects,” Gonzalez said.

The construction of the sidewalks, according to Hillsborough County Senior Media Relations Strategist Chris Wilkerson, is part of a much bigger intersection improvement project to get people in and out of the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. 

The project, funded by the county and the hospital, is expected to improve pedestrian safety, drainage and reduce traffic congestion in the area.

“Since the traffic signal is going to be serving the veterans hospital, we needed to coordinate with the department of veterans affairs for them to be able to provide construction funding for the traffic signal,” Gonzalez said.

“The sidewalk on the east side was a long-identified need that we had along the corridor, but we were not able to implement it before because there wasn’t any funding available.”

The sidewalk project will cost around $1.8 million, of which $113,505 is for planning, $141,323 for design and land and $1.5 million for the actual construction.

“A bunch of this was funded by the [veterans’ hospital] because that’s a private road and we wouldn’t normally put in a traffic light at a private road like that, but there’s a pretty significant need,” Wilkerson said.

The portion of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard is one of two areas surrounding campus where there isn’t a sidewalk. Gonzalez said one of the reasons behind the absence of such features was due to environmental concerns around building a sidewalk close to Lake Behnke, located north of the USF Botanical Gardens and east of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

“[Before, the area] wasn’t as densely populated as it has become nowadays,” Gonzalez said. “That is one factor. Also, [Lake Behnke] created an environmental concern with [its] presence and not being able to just come with a regular sidewalk project.”

During the design process, Gonzalez said the county had to obtain the required permits and make sure the project was in compliance with state regulations to build the sidewalk alongside the lake.

“An analysis [of the area] has to be made,” Gonzalez said. “Currently, everything is grass, so everything is permeable, so the water can travel without any issues. But in the installation of the sidewalk, it would become impervious. 

“We were required to submit an application to the Southwest Florida Water Management District to prove to them that the installation of this impervious area is not going to negatively affect the flow patterns and the water treatment that is occurring in that lake.”

The project on North 50th Street is set to take place between mid-2023 to mid-2024. The total cost is $3.8 million, which covers $584,569 for design and land acquisition as well as $3.3 million in construction costs.

“There is a lot of traffic back from people that are traveling northbound who may try to go east on Fletcher,” she said. “We’ll be providing some additional turning lanes and additional enhancements on that area. And as part of those projects, a sidewalk will be installed in that area.” 

Both projects, according to Gonzalez, will allow the county and surrounding area to have a safer route for both pedestrians and cyclists to use, as well as improve the congestion over such busy roads.

“There has been a lot of redevelopment and housing that has been installed on the west side of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard,” Gonzalez said. “So it’s definitely providing that connectivity between the residential on the west and the campus’ needs on the east.”