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Republican National Convention could close Selmon Expressway

TAMPA — It happened in Boston. It happened in Denver. It could happen here, too.

The big convention could mean closing a big highway when delegates gather.

In Tampa's case, the highway is the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, an elevated toll road that carries about 50,000 vehicles on a typical August weekday.

The expressway curves through downtown less than three blocks north of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the site of the Republican National Convention, and immediately next to the Tampa Convention Center, the working hub for 13,000 to 15,000 journalists.

"We have not had any official word from the RNC, but we have discussed the possibility of the expressway being closed in the downtown section," Tampa Hills­borough County Expressway Authority spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said in an email to the Times on Tuesday.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn assumes a closure is being considered by the Secret Service, which is in charge of the security plan for the Aug. 27-30 convention.

"I would think that they are looking at that, as they should," he said. "Ultimately, that will be their call … and we're going to live with it and support it, because it's in the best interest of the safety of the nominee and the safety of the convention."

Closing the road would prevent anyone from dropping, throwing, shooting or detonating anything from the highway.

"Whatever decision they arrive at makes sense to me, for all of those reasons," Buckhorn said.

For a similar reason, police have said the Platt Street drawbridge will remain pulled up during the convention, preventing northbound traffic from taking Platt Street into downtown Tampa.

"That is a given, because (Platt Street) goes right under the convention center, and that is common sense," police Chief Jane Castor told downtown business owners in January.

Closing the expressway near the convention would mean that eastbound traffic would have to exit at Willow Avenue, while westbound traffic would have to exit at either 22nd Street or Kennedy Boulevard, Chrzan said.

"But again," she added, "no official word." She had not heard that the expressway's reversible express lanes would be closed.

The Secret Service did not respond to an inquiry from the Times on Tuesday.

But for an idea of one kind of trouble that officials here want to prevent, consider the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn.

On the first day of the convention there, anarchists threw sandbags and temporary traffic signs from an overpass onto a freeway off-ramp below, hitting a bus loaded with convention delegates.

That sort of thing didn't happen at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston because authorities closed Interstate 93, the main north-south highway into Boston, which runs right by the convention hall.

Including I-93 and other streets, about 40 miles of road were closed for some period of time, generally about 4 p.m. to midnight, during the convention.

The closures were extensive enough that Harvard environmental scientists tried to measure whether they reduced air pollution. (Yes, but only slightly.)

In 2008, Denver authorities closed 5.5 miles of Interstate 25 through Denver for then-nominee Barack Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@tampabay.com.

Republican National Convention could close Selmon Expressway 04/10/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 1:14am]

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