The bottleneck on Bayshore Boulevard continues, and backups for drivers in the Bayshore and Davis Islands areas promise to get worse before they get better.
The Bayshore bike lane project, which started in March, was set to be completed this month. But hard rains and repairs to a stormwater box in the area contributed to delays, said David Vaughn, the city's director of contract administration.
Drivers face more bad news: The Platt Street bridge will close on Monday. The project to repair the bridge is expected to be done by Jan. 16, before the Gasparilla parade later that month.
The bridge is a major artery for Davis Islands residents and homeowners along Bayshore, not to mention employees at Tampa General Hospital.
The city is trying to coordinate its extended Bayshore project with the county's efforts to repair the bridge. The goal now is to finish construction from Rome to Swann avenues, including the landscaped median, by this weekend, which would allow drivers to use Swann as one of several detours from the bridge closure.
The timeline is key because the northbound lane of Bayshore will close between Swann and the bridge starting Monday. Motorists will still be able to drive south on Bayshore.
"We wanted to get everything completed to Swann, and we're almost there," Vaughn said. "We're hoping to get the sod in."
The construction is part of the first phase of a larger plan called the Bayshore Boulevard Enhancement Project. This phase extends along Bayshore from Rome Avenue to Platt Street and costs nearly $1.5 million, funded by state gasoline taxes. Now, Vaughn said, it will take a couple of more months to finish that phase along the signature stretch. The project should be done by Thanksgiving, he said, most definitely by Gasparilla.
The Bayshore project aims to get people around safely on bike or foot and includes:
• Adding bicycle lanes 4-feet wide in both directions
• Paring a six-lane section of the road between the Davis Islands Bridge and Rome Avenue to four lanes with a 14-foot-wide grassy median.
• Creating left-turn lanes for northbound traffic at Rome, Oregon, Willow, Newport, Delaware, Edison and Brevard avenues.
• Improvements to painted crosswalks and crossing signals at Platt Street and Bay-to-Bay Boulevard.
Some who use the road and linear park, as well as the bridge, feel the inconvenience will be worth the wait. Others aren't so sure.
Thom Davis, 42, says the Bayshore project, which will decrease the number of lanes, won't improve his commute. He now leaves his home 10 minutes earlier to drive downtown and plans to continue.
"Why close a lane on a main thoroughfare? It'll make this gridlock continue," he said.
Guy King lives on Bayshore and plans to take the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway to work until the bridge project is done. As for Bayshore, he expects going from three lanes to two each direction will calm traffic.
"We've all wanted some improvements," said King, president of Bayshore Boulevard Homeowners Association. "We're really inconvenienced, but I think we will appreciate the results."
Jeff Giles, 37, is thrilled with the project. He hopes the bike lane will pull cyclists off the 10-foot-wide Bayshore Linear Park bordering the bay where he likes to run. Once, Giles said, he was running when a speeding cyclist forced him off the path.
Giles actually lives in Seminole Heights and often rides his bike to Bayshore . But the boulevard is uneven and dangerous, he said.
While the new bike lanes may result in fewer riders on the sidewalk, the sidewalk will continue to be open to bicyclists, said Jean Dorzback, Tampa's transportation manager.
City officials, joggers, cyclists, pedestrians and association members have debated ways to make the road and the lengthy sidewalk trail safer since a jogger was killed in 2004.
Two upcoming phases in the Bayshore enhancement project will line the entire 4.5 miles of Bayshore — from W Gandy Boulevard to Platt — with bicycle lanes.
Mayor Pam Iorio created a task force to recommend changes and, in 2009, traffic engineers unveiled the improvement plan.
The second phase, estimated at $2 million, has a start date in 2014 and stretches between Rome and Howard avenues. That project will widen southbound Bayshore to add a bicycle lane. No changes are planned to the northbound road and current bicycle lane.
The final phase, estimated at $3 million, will stretch the southbound bicycle lane from Howard Avenue to north of Gandy Boulevard.
Ed Bonner, 78, lives on Bayshore and walks every day at sunrise. Although his commute to drop his wife off at work has been inconvenienced by the construction, he's glad the city is keeping the road up.
"This is the gem of Tampa," he said.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.