Good news for downtown Tampa's weary commuters: roads reopen Friday

TAMPA — Getting to work downtown should get easier today as workers start to haul away barricades and reopen scores of roads closed this week for the Republican National Convention.

The road-clearing effort was expected to start just after midnight, when the convention officially closed. Commuters could see roads starting to reopen this morning when they return to work.

If all goes according to plan, the local lanes on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway will reopen at 5 a.m. Friday.

Roads and sidewalks south of Jackson Street and elsewhere around downtown will reopen at various times throughout the day. In some cases, crews will push barricades to the side and haul them away later, in order to open the road, officials said. The full cleanup likely will stretch into Saturday.

Setting up all the barricades, signs, fences and tents took about 17 hours last week.

Overall, police and city officials said they were pleased with how commuters adjusted to the RNC traffic patterns. The Selmon's local lanes were closed at 50th Street and Willow Avenue, which pushed traffic onto Adamo Drive and Interstate 4.

Roads south of Jackson Street, including the Brorein and Platt street bridges, were shut down, forcing drivers to divert.

The closures caused slowdowns, notably at E Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive, Tampa and Whiting streets, and on parts of Jackson Street.

"There were some traffic holdups here and there, but we're pleased the congestion was much lower than what we thought it would be," said Jean Duncan, the city's transportation director.

"We do think people flexing their work schedules was a big part of it. The a.m. (traffic peak) was earlier, and the p.m. was more spread out."

Stacie Lynn, a paralegal from Valrico, shifted her work hours to avoid the afternoon rush and a possible conflict with protesters. On Tuesday afternoon, demonstrators marching through downtown delayed afternoon rush-hour traffic for about 15 minutes on Jackson Street and Kennedy Boulevard. Lynn had left her job at 2 p.m., though, and avoided the traffic delay.

But the schedule change was tough on Lynn and her co-workers, who had to come in at 7 a.m.

"All of us are so tired," she said.

Many of the 50,000 delegates, journalists and other visitors will head to the airport today.

Tampa International Airport anticipates 25,400 departures, about 5,000 departures more than a usual travel day, airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said.

"It's going to be like a busy day during spring break. Spring break is our busiest time of the year," she said.

Another transportation problem — delegates' buses taking hours to return to hotels after Tuesday night's RNC session — was cleared up Wednesday night by RNC and city officials as well as the RNC's transportation management company.

"They corrected everything. My hat's off to them," said John Zajicek, a Republican donor from Freeport, Ill., who was delayed three hours before the changes went into place.

Good news for downtown Tampa's weary commuters: roads reopen Friday 08/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 10:35pm]

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