TAMPA — The addition of new lanes and electronic tolling are expected to ease congestion along the Veterans Expressway. But, with construction under way, traffic may get a little worse before it gets better.
Work began recently on a $386 million project to expand the Veterans Expressway from four lanes to eight between Memorial Highway and Van Dyke Road. Slated to take three years, the project also includes the elimination of cash tolls and the introduction of an express lane.
The goal of the project is to ease traffic for the 150,000 vehicles that currently travel the expressway each day, said Christa Deason, a Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
"It's at capacity now; we need to add some new lanes so we can fit more traffic on there," Deason said.
Those improvements come at a price, though.
"The majority of lane closures will be overnight," Deason said. "But when we start setting bridge beams — 22 bridges have to be widened and three have to be reconstructed in the first phase — there will be some detours, lane closures on the expressway and possibly on connector roads."
The first phase of the project focuses on the 7-mile stretch between Memorial and Gunn highways, widening the roadway two lanes in each direction.
That includes the closure of the Anderson Road northbound off-ramp and southbound on-ramp for the next six to nine months, Deason said. The bridges that connect Anderson road to the expressway will be reconstructed during that time.
Motorists can use the Waters Avenue on-ramp and the Waters or Linebaugh avenue off-ramps during that time, though that probably will add a few more minutes to the commute.
"This is going to put about 3,000 more cars a day on Anderson Road and additional traffic at the Waters and Linebaugh ramps," Deason said.
Besides adding lanes, eliminating cash tolls and creating an express lane should speed up commuter time when construction is done.
Electronic tolling is expected to replace cash tolls by mid 2014. Motorists will be able to pay either through a SunPass account or they can be mailed a bill for an extra fee. About 75 percent of those using the Veterans Expressway already use SunPass, Deason said.
Commuters will also have the choice of a new express lane, which will be similar to the one on Interstate 95 in South Florida, Deason said. The lane, which will be a higher toll than the regular roadway, will run between Hutchison Road and Hillsborough Avenue with limited exits and entrances to reduce travel time.
"The express lane is a way to manage congestion and provide travelers with more predictable travel time," Deason said.
As construction continues, the Department of Transportation will provide as much notice as possible regarding upcoming detours and closures, Deason said.
The good news? Changes shouldn't affect traffic for long.
"This is a commuter road used primarily by commuters," Deason said. "So it only takes them a couple of days to adjust to anything new and then they'll get right into the flow of it."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.