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Hillsborough on Selmon Expressway extension: Can we do it sooner?

A proposal to run the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway 10 miles southward will get additional study.
 
The county, state and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority are studying a proposal to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway 10 miles southward to the intersection of Big Bend Road and U.S. 301, shown here.
The county, state and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority are studying a proposal to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway 10 miles southward to the intersection of Big Bend Road and U.S. 301, shown here. [ Times (2018) ]
Published June 22, 2023|Updated June 22, 2023

Hillsborough County commissioners would like to put a proposed 10-mile extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway into the fast lane.

On Thursday, the commission unanimously authorized two additional studies on the proposed toll road and also requested the county’s Transportation Planning Organization add the $1.8 billion project to the long-range transportation plan through 2050.

“I’ll try not to get overly excited about this project and keep my composure,” said Commissioner Michael Owen, who asked for the preliminary study conducted by the county, state and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

The proposal calls for extending the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway from its eastern end in Brandon to Big Bend Road in Riverview, a 10-mile stretch that could be built as an elevated four-lane toll road in the existing median of U.S. 301. If it is accompanied by an expanded Interstate 75, the study suggested it would reduce the afternoon drive time from downtown Tampa to Gibsonton Road by 30 minutes. That’s according to 2045 traffic projections.

The cost would be covered by borrowed money paid off by toll revenue.

“We’ve got to do something. It already feels like a little too late, but we can’t look back,” said Owen.

A proposal to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway 10 miles south to Big Bend Road could aid traffic congestion in southern Hillsborough County.
A proposal to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway 10 miles south to Big Bend Road could aid traffic congestion in southern Hillsborough County. [ Hillsborough County ]

In the meantime, commissioners wondered aloud if the proposal could begin sooner rather than later.

“I think, if anything, we need to try to accelerate the timeline of how this is looked at because the need is there now,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen.

“Twenty-two years in between, 2023 to 2045. That’s a long time,” said Commissioner Gwen Myers. “I mean, we’ll have more growth by the time we hit 2045, so if the time could be shorter, it would be nice.”

Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority CEO Greg Slater, however, was noncommittal about start and completion dates until the additional studies — project development and economic impact — can provide more concrete cost estimates and a potential timeline for construction.

He also cautioned that building the new toll road while simultaneously constructing the additional lanes on nearby I-75 could cause unforeseen traffic problems on surface streets.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, which owns and operates the 15-mile Lee Roy Selmon Expressway between South Tampa and Brandon, also has other projects in the queue. The authority’s immediate priority, Slater said, is the $250 million expansion of the Selmon Expressway between Himes and Florida avenues. It will widen the highway from four to six lanes, and construction is expected to be finished in 2029.

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The Brandon-to-Riverview extension plan comes at a time of rapid residential development in southern Hillsborough. Commuters already navigate congestion on Interstate 75 and local east-west roads, and the Hillsborough bus system is facing financial troubles. Likewise, a proposed expansion of the Cross Bay Ferry to serve MacDill Air Force Base is sailing into an uncertain future because of diminished support on the County Commission.

Coincidentally, commissioners considered the highway proposal the same day seven business leaders from both sides of Tampa Bay spoke in support of the seasonal Cross Bay Ferry running between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg. Several asked the panel to support expanding the operation — run with public subsides by HMS Ferries — to a year-round service in 2024. A related proposal to run commuter ferry service between south county and MacDill remains under study.