Culbreath Key resident Nancy Miller always felt a little unsafe pulling out of her gated subdivision and turning left onto Gandy Boulevard.
Now that Gandy's center lane has been removed during construction, she doesn't even try.
During morning rush hour, she turns right instead and drives about a quarter-mile onto the Gandy Bridge and makes a U-turn — assuming someone will let her into the traffic-jammed eastbound lanes.
"We don't have any other way in or out of our neighborhood," Miller said. "We're kind of trapped."
Miller and her Culbreath Key neighbors were among many concerned Gandy area residents who turned out at the Florida Department of Transportation's open house last week to learn more about the construction project.
The $21-million project, which started in January, will turn the road's center lane into raised medians, as well as add sidewalks, landscaping and a trail for biking and walking.
Now that crews have begun work on the stretch between the bridge and Dale Mabry Highway, some surrounding homeowners say their worst fears have been realized.
"What is happening right now is exactly what we predicted would happen," said Al Steenson, president of the Gandy Civic Association, who said that both members and nonmembers of the association have called him about traffic issues. "Drivers are getting tired of being jammed in, so they're cutting through small side streets like Pearl and McElroy (avenues) to take the path of least resistance."
At the open house, the DOT received more than 50 written comments, including concerns about a lack of traffic lights, the placement of power lines and the obstruction that new medians may cause.
"Ridiculous!!" wrote H.R. Brown who lives on Price Avenue. "All businesses on south side of Gandy should close and move out of town."
"You just don't care," wrote David N. Siddeley, who lives close to the east end of the bridge."
Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson said that public input is always taken into consideration.
However, the problems and construction clutter won't subside anytime soon. The project is supposed to take at least two years, though the bulk of the road work between the bridge and Dale Mabry will be finished in a year.
The traffic delays are compounded by the fact that at the same time, construction on northbound I-275 near downtown Tampa is causing even worse backups on the alternative path from Pinellas County to Hillsborough County.
Jeff Cox, who lives in the old Guernsey Estates neighborhood north of Gandy, was one of few at the open house to welcome the changes, despite the inconvenience. He did have a couple of suggestions, though.
"I'd just like to see the (power) lines underground and more trees and landscaping," he said. "Right now, there's just too much urban clutter."
Emily Nipps can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.