TAMPA — Residents and business owners will get a chance to sound off on a controversial idea to build an elevated highway along Gandy Boulevard to connect the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and Gandy Bridge.
The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, which operates the 15-mile toll road, will hold a public hearing from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the New Beginnings Christian Church, 4100 Manhattan Ave.
About a half-dozen similar proposals have popped up during the past 20 years, but were shelved after citizens complained. Now, the authority says, the idea is gaining ground as way to curb traffic in South Tampa and create a hurricane evacuation route for southern Pinellas.
"We have heard opposition. It's not a loud voice, and we have heard equal, if not more, positive comments about this as well," spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said.
Illustrations and maps will be provided, and officials will take questions prior to a formal presentation. About a half-hour will be set aside at the end for public comment.
About 42,000 vehicles a day travel along Gandy Boulevard. The authority estimates 48,100 vehicles will use the road by 2015.
With a two-lane, elevated highway to funnel traffic to the expressway, that number would drop to 36,200 vehicles — or about 14 percent fewer vehicles than Gandy gets today.
That might please South Tampa homeowners aching for a break from congestion, but it worries business owners who say the project will mean less traffic in front of their stores.
"I think you will see a lot of people show up who are against it," said Mikael Eskildsen, owner of Scan Design, a furniture store at 4221 W Gandy Blvd.
In response to their worries, the authority hired the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida to study the highway's potential impact on local business and to present its findings at the meeting.
To further win support, the authority in January offered to build two landscaped roundabouts — at Manhattan Avenue and West Shore Boulevard — as well as a signalized intersection at Bridge Street to permit homeowners from Regency Cove and Culbreath Key to make left turns onto Gandy.
The intersection idea won praise, mostly from those two communities, but residents have been cool to the roundabout offer.
"It's always been just an option," Chrzan said. "We haven't heard an overwhelming number of people say they want roundabouts."
Some business owners said they won't back the project, no matter what the authority promises.
Nor do they need a study to know the elevated highway, essentially a mile-long bridge from Dale Mabry Highway to just east of the Gandy Bridge, will reduce drive-by traffic and slice into their revenue.
Jim Kotsiviras, who owns two retail centers on Gandy, said he already has lost four tenants at one location because of the recent construction on Gandy. If his tenants lose any more drive-by traffic, they might also pull out, he said.
"If that bridge goes up, forget about it. It's going to create a ghost town around here," he said.
The authority says only a handful of merchants will lose customers, mostly gas stations and fast food restaurants that rely on drive-by business.
If approved by the state and the expressway authority board, the $115 million project would start in 2013 and be completed in 2015. The 25-cent toll would be collected electronically.