TAMPA — The idea of building an elevated expressway above Gandy Boulevard in Tampa has been described as a political hot potato.
And the officials in charge of building toll roads in Hillsborough County are well aware that community opposition helped kill a previous attempt to build an elevated highway over Gandy.
So they pledged to seek significant public input over the next year as they voted Monday to embark on a yearlong, $1-million process to begin planning some kind of connector road that would link the Selmon Crosstown Expressway with the Gandy Bridge.
"Certainly this project has seen a lot of opposition," said state transportation official Don Skelton. "But I think more and more people see the necessity of doing something in this corridor."
The argument for a new expressway is that it would help with regional traffic flow and hurricane evacuation from Pinellas County as well as taking pressure off overloaded local roads in the Gandy area of Tampa. But neighbors fear an elevated road would be ugly, noisy and bad for business along the busy commercial thoroughfare.
Board members of the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority voted Monday to assemble a Gandy community task force, which will likely begin meeting in September, to look at the area's traffic problems and help develop solutions.
"We see extensive public involvement, a large and very active group," said Marty Stone, the agency's planning director. "This would have to have public support for the authority to move forward."
The toll road authority hasn't decided what it would build.
Different versions of this road have been proposed before — either a bypass south of Gandy or a four-lane elevated highway along the north side of the boulevard. After those ideas were scrapped in 2002, authority officials talked of two elevated lanes running down the center of Gandy, where state officials will soon be adding a 30-foot-wide median.
"We'll look at everything," said authority director Joe Waggoner. "But it has to be a cost-affordable solution."
The city of Tampa is worried about worsening traffic problems in that part of town.
A 2006 study predicted a perpetual traffic jam around Gandy and West Shore boulevards, with future development putting as many as 80,000 cars a day on a road system equipped to handle only 34,000 cars, or 50,000 after the current construction work on Gandy.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3435.