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Plans for Gandy connecting bridge shelved

TAMPA — The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority has shelved plans for a bridge connecting Gandy Boulevard to the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, and isn't likely to resurrect the idea unless another agency pushes it.

For years, state agencies talked about linking the Gandy Bridge to the expressway's southern end at S Dale Mabry Highway. The most viable idea that emerged was a 2-mile elevated roadway down the middle of Gandy Boulevard.

And for years, businesses and residents near Gandy fumed and gathered petitions in protest.

"It's been kicking around for 15 years," said Alan Steenson, president of the Gandy Civic Association. "This thing has been hanging over our heads.

After concluding the $115 million roadway could support itself with tolls, the Expressway Authority put the project on the shelf. There are no plans for its board members to revive it on their own.

"I don't see my board moving unilaterally in that direction," said Joe Waggoner, the Expressway Authority's executive director.

While no specific reason was given for shelving the project, the Expressway Authority now has its hands full with the Interstate 4 Connector and improvements to the highway in downtown Tampa, spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said.

Tampa, Hillsborough County or the state Department of Transportation can nudge an idle project back into action, but Waggoner doesn't recall the last time that happened.

Starting again would require about a year for updated studies, along with more public hearings and bond sales.

The connector would have siphoned off about one-third of the commuters who drive roughly 2 miles along Gandy to the expressway.

Critics said the lost traffic would strangle businesses that already went through 18 months of disruption while the state spent $20 million to widen and improve Gandy Boulevard in 2008 and 2009.

"It would be a ghost town," Steenson said. "It would destroy the community."

A former authority executive director suggested the elevated connector in 2002 but the idea was shelved then. It popped back up when the Expressway Authority studied options for a Gandy connector in 2008 at the request of Tampa and the DOT.

The last action was a study last fall that showed places relying on drive-by business would lose customers and larger establishments would gain about the same number.

While pleased the connector appears sidelined, Steenson wants the authority to assure business interests wary of investing in the project's shadow that it's truly over.

"Maybe that would put the commercial community at least at ease," he said.

Plans for Gandy connecting bridge shelved 07/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 11:34pm]
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