The plan to close the dilapidated Platt Street Bridge for much-needed repairs has been on the table for months now, county officials say.
But time hasn't eased the frustration residents of Davis Islands and Harbour Island feel over the project that will eliminate a major link to and from downtown for 105 days, some time in early October.
They say the city hasn't provided enough options for diverting traffic away from the bridge, contending that the closing will create a near-constant gridlock in and around the Platt Street area.
"Hopefully this (traffic plan) is a work in progress," Davis Islands resident Joe Fontana said at an open house this week hosted by County Commissioner Sandy Murman. "But this is the same as nine months ago. That's extremely inefficient."
One resident said the traffic plan made her feel "claustrophobic," while others expressed concerns about access for emergency vehicles in the area. They're also worried that cars leaving from Tampa General Hospital on Davis Islands and St. John's Episcopal Church School in Hyde Park — which send employees and students home around the same time — will further clog the area.
City transportation officials say the plan is a tentative one and are still looking for suggestions from residents as the project draws closer to its start date.
City transportation manager Jean Dorzback said while the traffic situation in and around Platt Street isn't ideal, the city will "deal with it as best as we can."
In part, the current plan will divert neighborhood traffic crossing the Hillsborough River onto Kennedy Boulevard and Franklin Street. Other alternatives will detour drivers onto Verne Street and Plant Avenue, which will soon allow three lanes of traffic through.
Commuters will be encouraged to take the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway across town to avoid Bayshore Boulevard. The Tampa Police Department will station officers at key intersections to direct traffic during the first few days of the bridge closure, and the city plans to post 30 electronic message boards around the area to warn drivers.
The county, which owns the bridge and is overseeing the $13.8 million project, is offering monetary incentives to its contractors to finish the job on time — $10,000 per day if the bridge is completed up to 20 days in advance and $10,000 penalties for every day past the 105-day completion window. The project is part of ongoing repairs to the bridge that began in January and have caused lane closures along the way.
But no matter what, officials say, residents will have to deal with occasionally frustrating traffic.
"The first few days are going to be awful," said Martin Stone, the planning director of the state Expressway Authority. He was at Monday's open house, handing out free SunPasses to help residents prepare for the months to come.
Despite all their planning, officials say they still expect some confusion in October.
"We've been promoting this for months now," said Shannon Edge, the head of the city's neighborhood and community relations office. "People aren't going to realize it's actually closed until the day of."
Aubrey Whelan can be reached at (813) 226-3446 or firstname.lastname@example.org