TAMPA — Commuters will soon be able to drive from the south end of the Gandy Bridge to Brandon without hitting a stop light — as long as they’re willing to pay a toll.
The Selmon Extension, a 1.9-mile toll bridge built in the median of Gandy Boulevard, is set to open early this summer. Construction managers hope it will be sooner, if work goes well.
Tools, equipment and vehicles dotted the unopened span of road Tuesday as crews worked to put the finishing touches on the $230 million project.
The last 72-ton concrete segment was installed in December, and the project is now about 90 to 95 percent complete, Cardno Project Administrator Matthew Kappler said. Construction crews will spend the next few months painting, installing lighting, landscaping, reconstructing the Gandy Boulevard median and repaving both Gandy and West Shore boulevards.
The repaving alone will delight those traveling the boulevards, Kappler said.
“Drivers will notice a big difference there. It’ll make for a smoother ride.”
The extension, which links the Gandy Bridge with the reworked Lee Roy Selmon Expressway entrance ramp at Dale Mabry Highway, will help drivers bypass three stoplights at street level.
It will cost 94 cents to drive for those with Sunpass, $1.37 with toll-by-plate. The cost to drive the entire length of the expressway and extension: $4.07 with Sunpass and $5.22 with toll-by-plate.
The Selmon Expressway carries about 100,000 vehicles a day and runs 14 miles now, from the corner of Town Center Boulevard and the Brandon Parkway to the corner of Gandy Boulevard and Dale Mabry.
The extension was paid for with toll revenue and bonds. That means the public isn’t supporting the cost of the project with taxes, but through user fees like tolls that help finance the extension.
Toll gates bristling with cameras are under construction where the new concrete bridge meets the rebuilt interchange at Dale Mabry. A new ramp has been added for those headed north on Dale Mabry to enter the extension and drive to St. Petersburg. And there will be a designated turn lane on eastbound Gandy for drivers headed toward MacDill Air Force Base. This stretch of road was notorious for backups and dangerous merging.
For vehicles entering the extension from the Gandy Bridge to the south, a designated lane will put them on the ramp, Kappler said. It will run at least a thousand feet, with striping and signage to guide drivers into the correct lane.
Once on the extension, drivers will notice design features including 27 triangular “fins” above the columns connecting the bridge to the ground. Each column and fin is painted with a cream-and-blue estuary pattern chosen by a community vote.
The columns and fins will be outfitted with LED lights, similar to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The colors are controlled at the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority office in downtown Tampa and can be changed to highlight holidays, causes or sports teams, Kappler said.
The bridge could be lit up in Buccaneer red, for example, the next time Tampa Bay’s NFL team plays in the Super Bowl.
Much has changed along the two-mile corridor since work started three years ago. Construction crews hammered away from street level to 30 feet up even as new businesses moved in along Gandy Boulevard.
At least nine new businesses have opened since construction started on the extension, including Fifth-Third Bank, Woodie’s Wash Shack, Westshore Fitness Center and National Nails.
The elevated toll road will take some cars off Gandy, decreasing traffic flow that stores might hope would bring in business. But Kappler said he’s hoping the change will provide safer and easier access for local traffic looking to visit shops on Gandy.
“Now that some of the traffic is up there, it’ll make it easier to access some of the businesses,” Kappler said. “You don’t have to worry about traffic building up behind you as you’re braking to turn in.”