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Ybor City hopes connector will ease traffic woes

YBOR CITY — Ask the right person in Historic Ybor and they'll tell you a tale of a neighborhood divided.

In the western half, businesses, condos and bars flourish, while the east is mostly industrial.

The dividing line is a pair of streets clogged by semitrailer trucks, which some say detract from the district's historic feel.

But relief is on the way.

The only question is how long will it take?

Hope has taken the form of an elevated bypass that would let trucks and other traffic travel from the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway to Interstate 4 without touching an Ybor road.

Many hope the bypass, called a connector, comes sooner rather than later.

Originally slated to begin construction next year, the connector would have been completed by 2014. But budget cuts threaten to delay it. The $521 million project was to be funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Turnpike Enterprise and the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, according to a DOT Web site.

A delay is unacceptable to officials at the Port of Tampa and in the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The chamber recently called for a letter-writing campaign asking for stimulus money for the project.

The chamber sees the Crosstown connector project as a boon to the economy. It's also an essential part of infrastructure for a city set to boom as soon as the recession ends.

For port officials the problem lies a bit farther away.

The Panama Canal is set to finish a widening project, which, like the connector, is also expected to wrap up in 2014. A wider canal means more business for ports on the Gulf Coast, said port spokesman Andy Fobes.

"(The canal) is a huge factor in our growth," he said.

Currently, about 11,000 trucks either enter or leave the port daily, and many of them use 21st and 22nd streets as a throughway to Interstate 4. This number promises to increase once the canal is complete because the port will get more business. Each container of goods or oil, for instance, is transported by truck.

These trucks, officials say, already take a toll on the road. In some cases, they have hit businesses, said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association.

"The Columbia (Restaurant) has been hit a number of times. It's only a matter of time until there's major damage or someone is killed," said LaColla.

For now, officials with District 7 of the DOT are committed to seeing the connector completed as soon as possible. They said recently that they hoped to have funding figured out by the end of this week.

"This is our No. 1 priority," said spokeswoman Kris Carson.

Joshua Neiderer can be reached at jneiderer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Ybor City hopes connector will ease traffic woes 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 4:30am]

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