TAMPA — It's the most expensive road Tampa Bay has ever seen — and it's running behind schedule.
The $400 million Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway connector is a 1-mile toll road and ramp system that will connect the two major transportation arteries.
One of the ramps is an important infrastructure improvement for the Port of Tampa: a 11/2-mile truck link that will allow cargo trucks to go directly to and from the port to I-4 and the Selmon Expressway, without having to sit in Ybor City traffic.
According to the original contract, the project was supposed to be finished June 12. But delays have pushed the opening back 190 days to Dec. 19.
The completion date was pushed back because the contractor needed to alter the underground supports to accommodate the different types of soil discovered where the substructure was to be installed, the Florida Department of Transportation said.
"This is a very technically challenging, highly involved project — with some of the construction in very confined spaces," FDOT spokesman John McShaffrey said in an email.
McShaffrey said the unforeseen work produced a "snowball effect" that delayed work that had to wait for the substructure to be completed.
"There's a good amount of work to do," he said. "But the majority of the structural pieces are in place."
The segmented bridges over I-4 and the Selmon are completed, he said. But the bridges over State Road 60 aren't finished.
The Tampa Port Authority is counting on the truck ramp to improve its cargo container business. The authority hopes companies will be lured to the Port of Tampa by the convenience of trucks being able to take their goods straight from the docks to the interstate and vice versa.
"It's a big deal for us," said Wade Elliott, the port's senior director of marketing. "It will be much more efficient than the current situation where all those trucks have to rumble their way through the streets of Ybor City with all the congestion and traffic lights and delays.
"This will mean more efficient access for the importers and exporters along the I-4 corridor all the way to Orlando. Once you get on it, you won't hit a light until you get to the Canadian border."
But the Port Authority wasn't unprepared for the delay, Elliott said: "Given the scope and size of the project, it's also not a surprise."
The contractor, PCL/Archer Western, faces a $24,000-a-day penalty for each day the project exceeds the original deadline. But those penalties will be evaluated by the state after the toll road is finished. The state may choose to waive penalties if the delays were unavoidable.