Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Transportation

Republican National Convention will take toll on downtown Tampa commuters

TAMPA — The Republican National Convention will cost downtown commuters some time — and test their creativity.

The Secret Service has released its security plan for the Aug. 27-30 convention, and with it a list of detours and road closures, including a segment of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway between Willow Avenue and 50th Street.

"It's the RNC," said Sue Chrzan, a Tampa Hills­borough County Expressway Authority spokeswoman. "It's the biggest event ever. And there's definitely bound to be some discomfort with that. But that's the way it is."

Tampa has posted detour plans at tampagov.net, but those cater mostly to cruise passengers and people going to Tampa General Hospital on Davis Islands.

There's no one-route-fits-all plan for locals or out-of-towners, said Jean Duncan, the city's transportation manager. The best advice: budget more time.

"When we have these closures, the best advice is for people to try to get as much information ahead of time and plan their route in advance," Duncan said. "Just allow for extra time. We don't know how much more exactly is needed."

It is a week for people to get creative, officials said.

Those with flexible work hours should consider getting in and leaving work early. Not only will this help them dodge the most congested time periods, but it will also alleviate traffic for those who have no choice but to drive during rush hour.

That's the same advice coming from the Florida Department of Transportation, which doesn't plan to set aside lanes on the interstates to accommodate the 400 charter buses that will carry delegates between their hotels and the Tampa Bay Times Forum convention site.

"We are not going to have any kind of specialized lanes or certain sections of the interstate blocked off for buses or anything like that," DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said. "It's definitely going to be busier, so we're advising people to pad their times if they do have to drive the interstate."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn expects drivers to figure out the routes best for them.

"Traffic is like water: It will always find its way," he said. "It will take people two or three days like it did with the Platt Street bridge closure. They will figure out how to get to their destination as quickly as possible."

Carpooling with a spouse or neighbor helps eliminate cars, Duncan said. And the Ybor City trolley will be running its normal hours from noon until 10 p.m. People also should consider parking farther away from the convention zone and walking the rest of the way into the city.

"If you're coming to downtown with a car at some point, plan on having some walking shoes with you," she said.

The city is working with cab companies to have more taxis available and to set up two additional cab stands, one on N Ashley Drive and E Whiting Street, and another on N 12th Street at Channelside Drive.

Officials will be monitoring the cameras at intersections to adjust signal timings accordingly, Duncan said. For example, if the live video shows one intersection facing an influx of traffic, the transportation department might add a little more green time on the traffic signal to alleviate congestion. The city will be adding several additional cameras, which don't record footage, to help with the event.

A combination of variable message boards — the big signs on wheels that show traffic tips in orange lights on the side of the road — and messages on interstate overhead signs will provide commuters with up-to-date information on delays, lane closures and detours, Duncan said. The city also will have a large police presence directing traffic, Duncan said.

"We're hoping everyone will heed the information that's out there now," Duncan said. "We've got a full month to plan routes and schedules and get backup plans."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3111.

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