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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas leader concerned over stimulus money going across the bay



An elevated connector between Interstate 4 and the Crosstown Expressway in Tampa has emerged as a priority project for state transportation officials eyeing road and bridge money that could be awarded to the region under the proposed federal economic stimulus package.

That concerns Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, who wants to ensure Pinellas projects such as improvements to U.S. 19 get a fair share of whatever money eventually flows to the area. For too long, she said, the urgent needs of U.S. 19 have been ignored.

"When is it our turn?" Seel asked today.

The Congress is currently developing a stimulus bill and it's expected that federal money for road and bridge projects will be funneled to state officials, who will decide what gets built where at the local level. Under a version of the bill passed by the U.S. House, state transportation officials project Florida will get $1.4 billion for road and bridge projects.

In December, state transportation officials compiled a stimulus wish list totaling nearly $7-billion.

The I-4/Crosstown connector alone is slated to cost $521-million, said Don Skelton, the Florida Department of Transportation's District 7 secretary. District 7 includes Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Skelton said he doubts a third of Florida's road and bridge stimulus cash would be awarded to District 7 and cautioned that some local government leaders may see little in the way of road and bridge money from the massive federal legislation.

If and when money does arrive, the top priority will be the connector, he said. Following that, in no particular order, will be Seel's U.S. 19 improvements and upgrades to I-275 in downtown Tampa.

The connector would create a direct link between I-4 and the Crosstown Expressway and allow trucks from the Port of Tampa to get to the highway without having to negotiate the streets of Ybor City. Officials supporting the connector believe it will help the port capitalize on future growth in container ship traffic.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, chairs the committee that helps direct transportation projects. He said he understands Seel's concerns and hopes money will be available for all deserving local projects, but said $150-million has already been sunk into right of way acquisition and design for the connector.

"I trust FDOT to prioritize based on the dollars that have been spent already and where we can get our quickest and biggest bang for our taxpayer money," Fasano said, "and right now that’s probably in the continuation of the crosstown connector."

--Will Van Sant, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:44am]


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