Tampa's 40th Street project embarks on final segment

EAST TAMPA — A tear rolled down Robert Scott's face as he sat in a city office in the spring of 2003 pleading for help.

"We had people getting killed on 40th Street," the great-grandfather and Tampa native said remembering that day. "We needed this street fixed."

And finally city officials responded.

This week, City Council members and Mayor Pam Iorio broke ground on the final portion of the 40th Street Project, promised for decades.

Iorio remembered driving on the north-south thoroughfare as a child, she told officials and community members gathered Tuesday for the ceremony.

No improvements had been made to it in the years before she came to office. Many traveled the narrow, curvy road from Interstate 4 to the University of South Florida and Busch Gardens. Pedestrians crossed at their own risk.

Iorio had been in office a couple of weeks when Scott and other community members came with a copy of a 1965 letter from former Mayor Nick Nuccio vowing to widen the roadway.

Iorio decided to make good on the promise.

In December 2003, the city embarked on a project to widen the two-lane thoroughfare to four lanes and to add a landscaped median, bike lane and sidewalks. Construction would be divided into five segments, stretching 4.2 miles from Fowler Avenue south to Hillsborough Avenue.

Today, three of the five segments have been completed and one is in progress. The fifth and last segment — from Hillsborough Avenue to Hanna Avenue — will cost $5 million and completion is anticipated by spring 2011.

Originally expected to cost $53 million, the eight-year project has now capped $100 million, due to increasing construction costs. Funding has come from city, county, state and federal funds.

"It was a community concern since the 1940s,'' said Jean Dorzback, the city's 40th Street project manager. "The project is doing so much for the area in terms of business redevelopment for the community."

As they broke ground on the last segment this week, council members and Iorio handed over gold-colored shovels to a group of 2- to 4-year-olds who walked with adults across 40th Street from Fat Albert Day Care on nearby E Hanna Avenue.

Already, the road was more walkable, pointed out Shannon Edge, Tampa's director of neighborhood and community relations.

She had met with the community through a task force every Friday since the project started.

Back in early 2003, Scott had marched with his neighbors on the 40th Street bridge with signs "Fix 40th Street Now."

"It's been a long and hard time," Scott said.

Finally, he feels relief.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker at (813)226-3431.

Tampa's 40th Street project embarks on final segment 10/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2009 5:31am]

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