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  1. Transportation

Tampa road work forces office workers to wait up to an hour to get out of their parking garage every day

Law firms in the Bank of America building say road work nearby means it takes up to an hour to get out the tower's garage building on Ashley Street. They say the delays are hurting their recruiting. [DENNIS JOYCE   |   Times]
Law firms in the Bank of America building say road work nearby means it takes up to an hour to get out the tower's garage building on Ashley Street. They say the delays are hurting their recruiting. [DENNIS JOYCE | Times]
Published Jun. 12, 2018

TAMPA — At 42 floors tall, the largest office building on Florida's Gulf Coast offers some spectacular views.

But good luck getting out of it.

Since the start of a $5.7 million street resurfacing project late last year on Kennedy Boulevard and Jackson Street, traffic jams are forcing people who work in the Bank of America building to idle for up to an hour just to exit the tower's garage building on Ashley Drive.

Then there's the traffic jam on Ashley — up to five light changes before motorists can move toward a path out of downtown, Tampa City Council members heard at their June 7 meeting.

"It's gridlock," said Marilyn Healy, an attorney representing the building's owners. "It's a mess."

Attorneys from Hill Ward Henderson and Trenam law firms told the council that congestion at the end of the work day is so bad it's costing their companies billable hours. What's more, they said, workers miss child care pick ups and family obligations, hurting morale and making it more difficult to recruit.

"We need help," said Sharon Ellwood, Trenam's chief operating officer. "Tampa is a great place to live, but it's increasingly becoming a frustrating place to work."

The state Department of Transportation is repaving 1.2 miles of Kennedy from Meridian Avenue west to the University of Tampa. Work began in November and is scheduled to end in mid-September, said Kris Carson, a Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Council member Harry Cohen met with representatives from the state and city staff last week seeking solutions but there appears to be no quick and easy remedy, he said. Adjusting the sequence of traffic signals and redrawing lanes around Ashley and Kennedy might help, said Cohen, who is running for mayor.

At Cohen's request, the city staff will present an action plan at the council's July 19 meeting. State and city officials are still working out what can be done, but there may be a way to squeeze an extra turn lane on Ashley, said Stephen Benson, an FDOT liaison administrator.

Council member Charlie Miranda said traffic problems aren't likely to go away considering all the new residential units planned downtown in the coming years.

"It's not going to get better," Miranda said. "It's going to get worse."

Said Cohen, "We still have to see what we can do. If we can solve 20 to 25 percent of it, maybe we can at least make it manageable."

Benson said while many people see the FDOT work, there are several construction projects going on in the area that contribute to the problem.

"It's a perception issue," Benson said.

The FDOT project should relieve some gridlock with dedicated turn lanes on Jackson at North Tampa Street and North Florida Avenue. While the work may have contributed to the problem, it didn't cause it, Benson said.

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"These are not new issue. There existing challenges that have just gotten worse," he said.

Blame the problem on a lack of any improvements to the downtown grid and its busy intersections since the 1950s, said Jean Duncan, city transportation and stormwater services director.

"We are extremely limited in the options we can come up with," Duncan said.

Moving from vehicle-based culture to one that makes room for streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians isn't easy, she said.

"Those growing pains are very difficult."

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

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