Tampa's port, historic Ybor City and the area's economy will never be the same with the new overhead highway connecting Interstate 4 with the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway that could open as early as today.
The milelong elevated road will be a critical link for truck traffic throughout the region. Instead of entering and exiting I-4 using local roads through Ybor City, trucks will have a dedicated lane for direct access in and out of the port. The connector will save money, time and gas for trucking companies, increasing the port's competitive edge as a economic driver for the region. By taking the trucks off local streets, it also provides commuters more convenience in moving from south Tampa and southern Hillsborough County through the city center and onto area interstates.
Getting heavy trucks out of Ybor promises a rebirth for one of only two National Historic Districts in Florida. Thousands of trucks pass through Ybor every day, acting as something of a battering ram on area roads, sidewalks and age-old buildings. The connector will save Tampa's historic Latin Quarter from wear and tear and make the historic district more pedestrian-friendly, which should help bring more storefronts to Ybor and ultimately reduce the industrial character of the outlying areas. And the connector could play a lifesaving role as a major route for hurricane evacuation and emergency responders.
With about 28,000 vehicle trips expected the first year, the connector will be a vital part of the region's transportation grid, and an instrument for historic preservation and better urban planning. This is some bang for the buck from the 2009 federal stimulus package, which paid for about one-fourth of the road's $425 million cost. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and area leaders did well by working to make this project a priority, and it is one of the best examples of the federal stimulus creating jobs as well as new infrastructure that will last for decades.