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  1. Transportation

Construction project causing major hiccups for West Shore drivers, businesses

Starting Wednesday, the city of Tampa will close part of S West Shore Boulevard while crews do a drainage improvement project on the Watrous Canal. Officials recommend using S Dale Mabry Highway as an alternative north-south route.
Published May 13, 2016

TAMPA — Jennie Campisi was a little late for her weekly 11 a.m. style at Susan Slazas' InTrend Salon on S West Shore Boulevard.

"Oh, God, the traffic," Campisi said after her Thursday appointment. "I couldn't begin to tell you how I got here, really. I started off on Kennedy and I was zigzagging, trying to follow traffic. I really don't know how I got here."

Hiccups can always be expected when a major urban traffic pattern is disrupted, but the two-month closure of West Shore Boulevard that started Wednesday night has turned into a doozy.

Technically, the shutdown is between W Bay Way Drive and W Beachway Drive for a Watrous Canal rehabilitation project.

But starting Wednesday night, police cruisers with lights ablaze and "Road Closed to Thru Traffic" signs greeted motorists for a 2.1-mile strip of West Shore from Azeele Street on the north to El Prado Boulevard on the south.

Lois Avenue and the city's recommended detour of El Prado to Manhattan Avenue to Henderson Boulevard to S Dale Mabry Highway were bumper-to-bumper much of the day Thursday, and business owners in the small commercial district along West Shore just north of El Prado said they felt cut off.

"It's a little worrisome for our business that there's cops not even allowing traffic to come this way," said Frank Muscarella, who runs the Family Farm produce and small grocery store at 3401 S West Shore Blvd.

Michael Chucran, the city's director of contract administration, said that there would be a police presence at various "choke points" around the closure and detour route, but that businesses would be accessible.

In an email to the Times, Chucran said the police presence "was needed for safety and to help enforce the detour route (we had drivers driving around barricades, people getting out of vehicles to move barricades, speeding through residential neighborhoods, running stop signs, etc.)."

The police presence will continue from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the next couple of weeks, he said.

Muscarella said that while officers may not technically be blocking traffic from the commercial district, "Me, personally, I'm not going to drive around a sign with two cops facing into oncoming traffic."

He said business was down about 30 percent on Thursday, a figure echoed by nearby business owners.

Michael Vanderburg just reopened his Cafe European restaurant at 3343 S West Shore Blvd. on April 25 after 21 years on S Hyde Park Avenue near the University of Tampa.

"It's kind of bad timing for us. It's completely dead," Vanderburg said. "Quite a lot of people are upset about it. A lot of businesses are suffering."

There may be some relief on the way, Chucran said. Within the next few days, signs will be posted east of West Shore along El Prado and south of El Prado along West Shore reading, "Businesses Open During Construction."

"We're hoping that it'll work itself out," Muscarella said. "If you know you're going to have to deal with something like this, you're probably going to stay away from the area for a little bit. I think it's going to hurt us for a little bit, at least for a couple of weeks, until the news gets out there that it's available to come down this way."

The city has embarked on a $2.9 million project to rehabilitate the Watrous Canal. Workers will repair its banks, which have eroded, and expand its capacity to move stormwater and alleviate flooding. Pedestrian access will be maintained on one side of West Shore at all times.

Beachway Drive will also be closed between West Shore and S Roxmere Road. The project will last until an undermined date in July.

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