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Ybor City finally gets some relief from heavy truck traffic

Ybor City businesses welcome the forthcoming ban on all but local truck traffic along the rebuilt, one-way arteries of 21st and 22nd streets.
Ybor City businesses welcome the forthcoming ban on all but local truck traffic along the rebuilt, one-way arteries of 21st and 22nd streets.
Published Dec. 2, 2016

TAMPA — For 50 years, the rumble and roar of heavy trucks on 21st and 22nd streets was part of the fabric of life in Ybor City, but that's changing.

Richard Gonzmart, 63, remembers being 12 and hearing his father talk about the 18-wheelers that thundered by on both sides of the family's Columbia Restaurant.

"It was damaging the structure of our building," he said.

Up to 6,000 trucks a day used the pair of roads. Tankers leaving the port fully loaded with fuel and heading north on 22nd Street would shake buildings to their foundations, dent the asphalt and cause parts of the road to collapse.

"It was pretty bad all the time, especially in the evening when you were trying to sleep," said Tony LaColla, who has lived near 22nd Street for more than a decade. "The trucks going over the railroad tracks would be like bombs going off."

A truck once ran up on the sidewalk next to the Columbia, taking out a row of decorative columns. Other times, someone heading south on 21st lost control and hit the restaurant, including, once, the front door of the gift shop. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

Soon, however, trucks will be banned from passing through Ybor on 21st and 22nd. Trucks making local deliveries will still be allowed.

"This will help Ybor City immensely," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who is scheduled to mark the change at a ceremony on Friday.

The change is possible, first, because of the opening in 2014 of the connector between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. The $426 million link gives trucks a way to get to and from the port without passing through Ybor City.

In the two years since then, the Florida Department of Transportation has slimmed 21st and 22nd streets from three lanes to two, with wide sidewalks, bike lanes, on-street parking, new landscaping, old-fashioned lamp posts and better drainage, water and sewer pipes. The city contributed $2.5 million toward the $9.5 million project cost.

On Thursday, the City Council voted to remove 21st and 22nd streets from its list of approved truck routes. It also banned truck traffic along E Fourth Avenue from Channelside Drive to N 22nd Street and on E Seventh Avenue from N 22nd to N 34th streets.

Gonzmart expects the change to encourage business investment. He plans to open a new Italian restaurant, Casa Santo Stefano, on 22nd Street, probably next year.

Already, a lot of the trucks are gone. Many disappeared as construction on the roadway improvements closed lanes and brought traffic on 21st and 22nd streets to a crawl. Along with the noise, much of the soot from their exhaust is gone, too, LaColla said.

"The reduction has made my life a whole lot better," he said. "Definitely, the neighborhood is much quieter."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com.