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Project connecting Interstate 4, Crosstown Expressway behind schedule, over budget

TAMPA — Construction complications have delayed work on the $395 million connector road between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway, and a soggy July and August didn't help.

Rain and the other problems have pushed the project six months behind schedule and over budget by about 1.3 percent. Initially set for completion in mid 2013, the connector is now expected to open in late 2013.

Unforeseen construction issues get most of the blame.

Workers at some locations needed to drill deeper than expected to find bedrock to install the concrete footings, Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey said. At other sites, contractors needed to bring in specialized equipment because the cranes used to lift the bridge segments are too bulky for some cramped work spaces.

The other problems: construction debris, abandoned utility lines and trash long buried and forgotten about. Workers didn't discover the debris — some of it left over from construction of the Crosstown's elevated lanes — until they started excavating this year and last.

"At any job site, you encounter some things you expect, and then other times you find something you didn't know was going to be there," McShaffrey said.

All of that, plus a rain-soaked summer, means delays. How much will depend on the weather and contractors' ability to make up ground during the next year.

That's not welcome news to Renee Morris of Valrico and thousands of other commuters waiting for the connector to open. The project started in March 2010, but has been talked about by transportation officials for 20 years. If would have started years later if not for a $105 million infusion of federal stimulus money.

Morris commutes from her home in Valrico to her marketing job at CB Richard Ellis in downtown Tampa — a 35-minute trip on good days.

She varies her drive depending on traffic. Lately, her route takes her west on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Interstate 75 and then to the Crosstown Expressway.

If the connector can save five or 10 minutes on her morning drive, she'll skip MLK and take I-4 to the connector. If I-4 gets too congested, even with the connector in place, she'll stick with MLK.

"I'd have to try it out once it's in place," she said.

McShaffrey expects the connector will ease congestion areawide by giving motorists more entry points to the Crosstown and the interstate. Plus, it will relieve truck traffic that now cuts through Ybor City on the way to the port. Dedicated truck ramps to and from the port will be built at 20th Street.

Essentially an elevated bridge with a series of ramps, the connector will be 12 lanes at its widest point, just south of Fourth Avenue.

Tolls, ranging from 50 cents to $1, will be collected electronically through an overhead gantry. When it opens, 28,000 vehicles are expected to use the connector daily, McShaffrey said.

So far, about 85 percent of the underground foundation work is complete and 50 percent of the bridge columns and footings are in, he said. About 35 percent of the bridge deck segments have been installed.

Motorists on the Crosstown Expressway will bear most of the delays because the work there is more complicated, with several levels of bridges tying into the highway. I-4 drivers will start to see delays within the next few months.

Project connecting Interstate 4, Crosstown Expressway behind schedule, over budget 09/05/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 5, 2011 7:32pm]
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