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Planners work to ease MacDill traffic

TAMPA — With two major military commands calling MacDill Air Force Base home, people entering the base at gates on Dale Mabry Highway, Bayshore Boulevard or elsewhere can face daunting delays as guards check IDs.

Some Bayshore residents say the traffic can leave them trapped in their driveways like corks in a bottle.

In recent months, MacDill leaders and local transportation officials have held discussions about relieving gridlock on Bayshore by expanding the road or creating a queuing lane for vehicles entering the base. Regional planners also have discussed ferry service between MacDill and the Gibsonton area.

But Tampa planners say the existing right of way available on Bayshore makes a queuing lane or lane expansion cost-prohibitive. And ferry service, base officials say, has been discussed on and off for years without progress, though regional planners again are studying the idea.

"There are no plans, there is no funding," Robert Hughes, director of the 6th Civil Engineering Squadron at MacDill, said of talk about expanding roadways leading into MacDill. "There are a lot of people who would love all this to happen. We have roughly 10,000 people who drive through the gates in the first four hours of the day."

MacDill officials encourage carpooling, bicycling to work and flexible schedules so workers arrive on base at different times. They push bus service to eliminate some automobile traffic, Hughes said.

Steve Michelini, a land-use consultant who represents a property owner who lives near MacDill's Bayshore gate, recently told the Tampa City Council that the base is "impacting a very narrow street with no storage capacity and no ability to do anything other than back cars up."

His client, Michelini said, "called me early this morning and indicated he couldn't get out of his driveway beginning at 7 this morning because of the traffic."

Tampa planners said in a May 27 memo that their examination of Bayshore traffic confirmed backups but that there was "no appearance of excessive delays." They say they have readjusted traffic signals on Bayshore to smooth the flow of vehicles, which they say has helped ease some congestion.

City of Tampa officials have partnered with MacDill to apply for two grants available through a military infrastructure fund for work minimizing congestion at MacDill's Dale Mabry and Tanker Way gates. City officials did not return calls this week for details of those proposals.

As for ferry service, Hillsborough County's Metropolitan Planning Organization is conducting a feasibility study that may recommend a ferry link between MacDill and the Apollo Beach-Gibsonton area. The agency is studying costs and demand by base employees.

In the past, Hughes said, "There were a lot of logistics to the plan, and there was the cost to operate. I assume that has been the barrier."

As to the idea that base employees would embrace ferry service, Hughes said, "I think the answer is yes."

Metropolitan Planning Organization officials could not be reached for comment. The agency has paid $50,000 to the Jacobs Engineering Group for a feasibility study on ferry service.

Mike Williamson, working on Jacobs' study, told planners in August that the company had looked at public and privately funded water transportation across the country.

"The majority of them operate at a loss," Williamson said. "It does make sense in some locations, and it could make sense here."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

Planners work to ease MacDill traffic 12/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 9:11pm]
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