TAMPA — After a yearslong fight, the City Council on Thursday signed off on a contract allowing a local company to build the New Tampa Boulevard bridge over Interstate 75.
Prince Contracting submitted a low bid of $12.5 million out of 11 applicants, and the council unanimously approved hiring the company. The council awarded a second Tampa company, Kisinger Campo and Associates, a separate contract worth about $500,000 for professional engineering services on the bridge.
Construction on the two-lane road connecting New Tampa Boulevard with Commerce Park Boulevard is expected to begin in June. It should take about two years to complete.
Tampa Palms attorney Warren Dixon once sued the city in an effort to stop the project, but he no longer opposes the bridge. After speaking individually with council members, he was assured the safety concerns he raised over the years won't be ignored.
"I would not say that I'm a bridge supporter," Dixon said Thursday. "I will say that I'm content with the discussions as far as they've progressed."
Residents in Tampa Palms have argued that the bridge would increase traffic in their neighborhoods, creating a potential hazard for schoolchildren, pedestrians and wildlife. West Meadows homeowners also have opposed the project over the years.
Council member Lisa Montelione, the newly elected representative for New Tampa, held a community forum Monday to allow constituents to hear about the city's plans and express their concerns. But the message was clear that the project would likely move forward, she said.
The bridge will include bike lanes and sidewalks and has enough space to eventually be expanded to four lanes.
Widening of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard will be completed nearly a year before the New Tampa Boulevard bridge opens, which is alleviating concerns that people will use the new roadway to avoid congestion on the main thoroughfare.
Also Thursday, the council reviewed the city's plan for offering tax breaks to businesses that expand or hire new workers, an initiative approved by voters earlier this year.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn made ironing out the details of the tax break program one of his first priorities.
Under the plan, companies that hire at least 10 new employees or make substantial capital improvements won't have to pay some of the new property taxes that come with their larger enterprises. The exemption would be either 50 or 75 percent of the tax increases for either five or 10 years, depending on the size and nature of the business expansion.
"This is what it's all about," said Mark Huey, the city's administrator of economic and urban development. "Trying to position our community to grow as many jobs as we can."
The council would have to approve each exemption on a case-by-case basis and companies would be required to meet certain goals and submit annual reports.
Exemptions under the program would be capped at a cumulative total of $2 million in lost tax revenue each year unless a super-majority of the council votes to increase the limit.
The council will take a final vote on the plan at a later date.
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.