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Himes Avenue work nears completion

For some fans, getting to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game this year has been almost as difficult as it has for the team to win games in recent seasons. One reason may be that more fans are heading to Tampa Stadium. But another reason may be the plight of Himes Avenue, traditionally one of the main routes to the stadium on N Dale Mabry Highway.

Himes Avenue has been in the midst of a $4.9-million widening and reconstruction since last year. The work has limited the road's capacity to handle game day traffic and has caused traffic spillover onto other roads.

Further complicating matters are minor delays that have pushed the project past its scheduled completion date.

But city officials now say that relief is in sight.

"We're approaching the last few weeks of effort out there on most of the project," Elton Smith, the city's transportation manager, said Wednesday. "Traffic problems could be eased by that widening."

Dale Mabry Highway and Armenia Avenue have been the most popular options for people who otherwise would use Himes Avenue.

Himes has been changed to northbound-only lanes during stadium events, and a special events traffic light timer controlled from downtown Tampa has been used to improve traffic flow during stadium events, Smith said.

A two-mile stretch of Himes between Kennedy Boulevard and Columbus Drive is being widened from two lanes to five. Ramps connecting Himes with Interstate 275 is ready to open once Himes is finished. The new ramps will allow southbound interstate traffic to exit onto Himes and for Himes traffic to enter the interstate and go north.

Underground water, sewer and stormwater drainage systems also have been relocated along Himes, which caused Suncoast Excavating, the project's principal contractor, to miss its completion deadline at the end of August.

The city is considering fining the company for missing the deadline. But the company said it will appeal any fines because there were good reasons for the delays.

Both Smith and Suncoast projects director Bob Van Valin said they are aiming to complete the project in about four weeks, just in time for Thanksgiving and about two months before Super Bowl XXV, which will be played Jan. 27 at Tampa Stadium.

Between now and Super Sunday, concrete curbs and gutters must be installed along Himes and the road must be paved and striped before it is opened to regular traffic, Smith said. In addition, the city will plant 250 trees along Himes, many of them on private property.