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East-west connector likely a no-go

NEW TAMPA — Drivers beleaguered by the syrupy pace of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard got a mixed bag of news Monday at a roads conclave focusing on New Tampa.

• The $42-million flyover under construction at Bruce B. Downs and Interstate 75 should open to traffic by late summer, well ahead of schedule.

• Funding problems may doom a $155-million east-west expressway, the long-planned link between Bruce B. Downs and Interstate 275.

• Similar problems won't block the widening of Bruce B. Downs through Tampa Palms, at least not permanently. "We will get the funding for that," pledged Ken Hagan, chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission and a county transportation task force. "It will just take additional time."

Construction to eight-lane another stretch of Bruce B. Downs, between Tampa Palms and Pebble Creek, is funded and scheduled to start next year.

The flyover has been New Tampa's most visible construction project since last year. It will carry each morning's biggest cluster of traffic — heading from southbound Bruce B. Downs to southbound I-75 — soaring over the interstate, then merging onto it. Currently, these drivers must wait for a left-turn signal.

The Florida Department of Transportation's contract with PCL Civil Constructors calls for completion by next spring. But PCL is aiming to finish this year and open the flyover to traffic this summer, said DOT spokesman John McShaffrey.

"There is an early completion bonus," McShaffrey said.

He said work that can be completed after the flyover opens would include closing the old entrance ramp and finishing some of the new ones.

The east-west expressway, a 3-mile toll road that would relieve Bruce B. Downs, may fall victim to projections that its round-trip tolls could reach $6 within the first decade of operation. The road's expected construction costs soared in recent years as engineers concluded some 40 percent of the road would have to be elevated above protected wetlands next to the county's Cypress Creek Preserve.

Plenary Group, an international consortium selected a year ago to build the road privately, was asked to lower its toll schedule. But it stuck by those numbers last month in a memo to the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

"It doesn't seem to be a good business deal," said Mayor Pam Iorio, who convened Monday's meeting in New Tampa. "It doesn't seem to be viable."

Over the years, the city of Tampa acquired $4-million in property for the road. Iorio said officials should consider the project for a month or two longer, then "bring it to closure."

Hagan, who lived in New Tampa for 13 years, said "I hate to see it go down in flames like this."

But fellow Commissioner Rose Ferlita said it wasn't realistic.

"We just have to move on and quit giving people false hope," she said.

Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

East-west connector likely a no-go 05/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 3:34pm]
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