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A year out, making roads ready for Tampa's GOP convention

TAMPA — The 2012 Republican National Convention promises to be the biggest thing to hit Tampa since Teddy Roosevelt brought the Rough Riders through town on the way to San Juan Hill.

So local and state officials are working with the city to make sure that half-finished road projects won't create gridlock and 40,000 annoyed visitors the week of Aug. 27, 2012.

"We want to make sure they can get there and get home and have a happy memory of Tampa," said Leo Folsom, community relations and special events manager for the Florida Department of Transportation's Tampa office. "Our construction projects in the Tampa Bay area will essentially be shut down for the week of the convention itself."

Depending on the project, that means:

• Doing the work sooner. Resurfacing 5 miles of the Courtney Campbell Parkway has been moved up several months to be essentially done by the convention. The work is expected to cost nearly $9.5 million, start in April 2012 and extend from just east of Rocky Point to the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line.

• Doing it later. A $6.9 million state project to rehab Dale Mabry Highway from Kennedy Boulevard to near Hillsborough Avenue originally was scheduled to be under construction during the convention. Now it won't take place until after the event.

• Staging the work to avoid the convention. That goes for what is expected to be a $64 million job to widen and replace the deck on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

The Selmon Expressway will be widened from 19th Street in Ybor City almost to the Hillsborough River. The project is expected to start in December or January and take 2 1/2 to three years to complete. State officials say avoiding the convention could mean first doing the part of the Selmon Expressway next to the St. Pete Times Forum, the site of the convention, or staying away from it until after everyone goes home.

The city itself has some projects that will enhance downtown, such as sidewalks in the Channel District, but those were already planned before the city won the convention, Tampa public works director Irvin Lee said.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County has two big repair jobs under way on key drawbridges leading into downtown, but both are scheduled to be done months before the convention.

A $13.8 million repair job on the Platt Street bridge next to the Convention Center will close the bridge entirely starting in October for 105 days. The project began in January and is on schedule to be finished well before Republicans arrive.

"That whole schedule was all predicated on and put in place knowing that we had to be out of there by the time the convention began," county public works spokesman Steve Valdez said.

The same is true of a second $7.1 million project to repair the Columbus Drive bridge. The bridge will be closed for about three months starting in November and be completed in March or April, Valdez said.

"We must have that arterial open before the convention," he said.

The county was planning the projects when Tampa won the convention in May 2010, so it could schedule the work to be finished before the event, Valdez said.

There's also work under way on a section of the Riverwalk just north of the Convention Center, near the site of the once-proposed, now-defunct Trump Tower Tampa.

But city officials do not expect to have a plan in place to finance and finish the rest of the Riverwalk in time for the convention.

"There will still be gaps," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "But I think particularly for the area that the conventioneers will be living in, we're going to do extensive beautification and extensive landscaping to make sure that what the world sees is what we want the world to see.

"For that week, the eyes of the world will be on us," Buckhorn said. "I want our city to look as good as it absolutely can."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

A year out, making roads ready for Tampa's GOP convention 07/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 6:00pm]

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