Connecting Interstate 4 to the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway has always made sense. The Crosstown runs almost parallel to the interstate, and connecting the highways will accommodate more business at the Port of Tampa and give commuters coming from both sides of Tampa Bay easier access to the interstate system. The road work has been on the planning books for years, but it took federal stimulus money to get the half-billion-dollar project started.
About 11,000 trucks enter or leave the port daily. From I-4, the trucks head south on 21st Street to the port. They leave the port heading north on 22nd Street. Both streets are one way and cut through the heart of historic Ybor City. The situation is not good for the port, and it's not good for Ybor businesses.
The state Department of Transportation will build a new corridor into and out of the port along 31st Street, several blocks east. The I-4/Selmon Connector will be an elevated roadway between the interstate and the Selmon, with access ramps to keep pass-through traffic from clogging local roads.
The entire project will cost $446 million. The state will commit $105 million in stimulus money, and pay the balance over several years under a "build-finance" contract with a private builder. Officials expect the project will create 12,000 jobs and spin off more economic development in the Tampa Bay area.
The connector will benefit truckers and commuters alike. Trucks leaving the port will have a straight shot to I-4, I-75 and I-275. Trucks coming into Tampa from the east will have shorter routes to Pinellas and the rest of the Gulf Coast. The added capacity will enable Tampa to capitalize on new shipping opportunities made possible by the expansion of the Panama Canal, which, like the connector, is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
The connector also will be a boon for commuters, creating a better link between the bay area freeways. Once the bypass connecting the Selmon with the Gandy Bridge is completed, residents will have a new expressway from eastern Tampa to St. Petersburg. It also fills a void in an evacuation route for residents of south Pinellas. Taking thousands of trucks off local roads in Ybor will make the historic district safer and more attractive.
The DOT will need to manage this mammoth project responsibly. That includes being sensitive to the design concerns of businesses and residents in and around the historic district. Done right, the project will leave a positive legacy and pay dividends for years.