TAMPA — Downtown commuters might notice more delays than usual near Whiting and Franklin streets.
The reason: Workers have started expanding the streetcar line between the Tampa Convention Center and downtown.
Congestion isn't a major problem for now — only the left-turn lane from Franklin Street to Whiting is closed. But early next year, crews are expected to rip up 250 feet of Franklin Street to make room for streetcar tracks on its northbound side.
Engineers are awaiting word from the city about whether crews, in anticipation of that work, can block traffic in both directions on Franklin or just the northbound side as the work proceeds south to the convention center.
What is known now is that crews will not block Whiting, Brorein and other east-west streets on weekdays, although some streets might be closed partially on weekends.
Also, the Route 96 and Route 97 — two purple in-town trolleys that regularly travel down Franklin and Whiting — have suspended service until work is completed in December 2010.
The $4.9 million project began Oct. 9 at the southeast corner of Franklin and Whiting. For now, crews are relocating water, sewer and electrical lines to make room for a single set of tracks as well as a short passing lane.
The work, as well as lane closures, is expected to intensify during the first three months of 2010.
The plan is to proceed south until workers link up with the streetcar's starting point at the convention center, HART project manager Bob Atack said.
The line has steadily lost money since it started running in 2003, but the streetcar board and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, which is overseeing construction, hope more riders will use the streetcar once it enters the downtown core at Whiting.
About 1,200 people, mostly tourists and conventioneers, ride the streetcar daily.
"The hope is to bring a lot of tourists who go into Ybor into downtown Tampa," Atack said.
Officials also hope the expanded line draws a lunchtime crowd, as well as hockey- and event-goers who park downtown.
Architects are still working out details for the station stop at Whiting. The theme seems to be a mix of light and color.
"Color during the day and light at night," HART spokeswoman Kathy Karalekas said.
The $4.9 million project is funded by federal grants, including $1 million in stimulus money.