Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Transportation

Runners christen I-4/Selmon Expressway Connector before Friday's opening

TAMPA — Not far from the pedestrian-friendly stretches of Ybor City's Seventh Avenue, trucks barrel through historic streets at the rate of thousands per day.

Serving as main arteries between Interstate 4 and the Port of Tampa, 21st and 22nd streets are often filled with traffic. Surrounding businesses quake as trucks hauling everything from automobiles to hazardous materials navigate the narrow city streets.

Without many storefronts, sidewalks in this section of the historic district often go unused. The buildings are geared toward more industrial uses, a product of years of heavy traffic.

Soon, that will change.

An elevated toll road connecting I-4 with the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway — decades in the making — opens Friday.

The $425 million project is expected to ease traffic congestion in Ybor City, make commuting between southeastern Hillsborough County and I-4 easier and bolster business at the Port of Tampa.

With dedicated truck lanes for direct port access, a truck can theoretically travel from the port to Los Angeles or Canada without ever hitting a traffic light, said Tampa Port Authority president Paul Anderson.

That's a boon for port business. Allowing trucks to bypass the city streets will save transportation companies time and money.

"We'll be able to market around the world," Anderson said.

The project was funded in part — about $105 million — by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which served to jump start the economy by creating jobs and investing in infrastructure.

"The project is huge," said Greg Nadeau, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, speaking at a ribbon-cutting event Saturday morning. "It creates direct jobs during construction, but more importantly the efficiency to the port creates economic growth in the long run. This kind of investment serves the community immediately and for decades to come."

And it could save a neglected part of Ybor City, which is one of only a few national historic landmark districts in the state.

"There really are barriers to growth right now," said Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp. "If it wasn't for the Columbia Restaurant, I don't think anyone would cross 21st Street."

Once the connector opens, the state plans to redesign the two one-way streets to make them more pedestrian-friendly, Pardo said.

"We want to make it much more like a kind of Seventh Avenue ambiance with some benches and trees," Pardo said. "That will help attract more businesses and retailers."

The state intends to turn the streets over to the city of Tampa, Pardo said. He is hopeful a city ordinance will eventually be passed to prohibit truck traffic on the streets entirely.

"It has been a long process, but thankfully the federal stimulus money became available," Pardo said.

The new road will help commuters, as well, allowing them to bypass busy city streets or congested Interstate 75 to travel between south Hillsborough County and Interstate 275.

Using an all-electronic collection system, drivers will be able to maintain highway speeds. Toll collection will be done solely through SunPass and Toll-by-Plate.

Tolls will vary, depending on number of axles and route, starting at 50 cents. Trucks will pay $1 to $1.25 per trip.

After the ribbon-cutting, the state hosted a 5K race, giving runners a one-time chance to experience the road as pedestrians ahead of its opening this week. About 1,000 runners crowded onto the elevated roadway, sneaking sweeping views of Tampa as they ran.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.

Comments
New bus routes, times to start on Sunday in Hillsborough

New bus routes, times to start on Sunday in Hillsborough

TAMPA — More than a dozen bus routes in Hillsborough County will have new times, paths and stops starting Sunday.The changes come almost four months after the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority rolled out an entirely new bus network, scrapp...
Published: 02/19/18
After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

OCALA — In mid-2016, a regional task force that spent almost two years exploring ways to improve safety on a crowded Interstate 75 decided to take a conservative approach: make changes to the highway rather than build or expand other roads. Then Hurr...
Published: 02/18/18
Engineers push back against criticism of bus rapid transit plan

Engineers push back against criticism of bus rapid transit plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Proponents of a bus rapid transit system that would connect St. Petersburg, Tampa and Wesley Chapel pushed back Friday against recent criticism of the proposed plan.The lead engineer told a group of regional leaders that they wanted ...
Published: 02/12/18
Red-light camera challenge gets rough ride at state Supreme Court

Red-light camera challenge gets rough ride at state Supreme Court

TALLAHASSEE — Motorists hoping that the courts will pull the plug on red-light cameras may have hit a roadblock: the Florida Supreme Court.On Wednesday, the court heard arguments in a case that could decide the legality of red-light camera programs a...
Published: 02/07/18
Hillsborough leaders raise questions about bus rapid transit

Hillsborough leaders raise questions about bus rapid transit

TAMPA — Leaders in Hillsborough politics and transportation are speaking up this week about their concerns with Tampa Bay’s latest proposal to bring transit to the region. Bus rapid transit, known as BRT, emerged last month as the lead o...
Published: 02/06/18
Updated: 02/07/18
Shut down Bayshore Boulevard on Sundays? Tampa City Council is skeptical

Shut down Bayshore Boulevard on Sundays? Tampa City Council is skeptical

TAMPA — Shut down Tampa’s iconic Bayshore Boulevard on Sundays? Allow a Gasparilla every weekend, but without the drunken crowds and gaudy pirates? A group of supporters of the "Open Streets" concept pitched the idea Thursday to the Tampa City Counci...
Updated one month ago

She tried to board a flight with her ‘emotional support peacock.’ The airline said no.

Airlines are cracking down on the use of "emotional support animals" — and their case could be strengthened by a woman who tried to bring a peacock onboard a United Airlines flight.First reported by The Jet Set, a travel-focused show, a woman at Newa...
Updated one month ago
Florida among the states with the lowest number of structurally deficient bridges

Florida among the states with the lowest number of structurally deficient bridges

Florida is home to 265 "structurally deficient" bridges, according to a new report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, or ARTBA.The report examined federal data and found that there are 54,259 bridges rated "structurally def...
Updated one month ago
Bus rapid transit service must be fast, frequent, experts say

Bus rapid transit service must be fast, frequent, experts say

For years, the Tampa Bay region has been stuck in a prolonged transit fight: bus vs. rail.The form of transit is beside the point, said Art Guzzetti, vice president of the American Public Transportation Association."That’s not the problem," he said. ...
Updated one month ago
How to navigate downtown Tampa for Saturday’s Gasparilla invasion, NHL festivities

How to navigate downtown Tampa for Saturday’s Gasparilla invasion, NHL festivities

TAMPA — They may be the new kids in town when it comes to Gasparilla, but National Hockey League officials figured out the best advice for anyone coming to the all-star weekend events they have planned just around the corner from the pirate parade.Ge...
Updated one month ago