1. Transportation

Tons of concrete, 300 workers, and voila! Brandon to St. Pete without hitting a stop light

The 1.9 mile Lee Roy Selmon Expressway extension in Tampa is currently under construction to help alleviate traffic congestion on Gandy Blvd. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
The 1.9 mile Lee Roy Selmon Expressway extension in Tampa is currently under construction to help alleviate traffic congestion on Gandy Blvd. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Mar. 7, 2019

TAMPA — It's a massive undertaking — 300 people helping fashion 150,000 tons of concrete and 7,800 tons of rebar into a roadway rising above nearly two miles of already-busy South Tampa streets.

But one member of the team that's building the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway Extension isn't doing the job.

There's a digital clock hanging in the project's Gandy Boulevard construction office, counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the work is done and the expressway that starts in Brandon takes motorists all the way to the Gandy Bridge.

The clock, it turns out, is wrong. On Wednesday, its bright-red numbers had another 494 days to tick down — until July 12, 2020.

"I guess we should fix that," John Criss, senior project engineer, said with a laugh. "But we're on schedule."

The real completion date is months later, in fall 2020, said Criss, with Atkins North America, engineering consultant on the extension for the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

Still, hitting the deadline won't be easy. Weather permitting, crews have been working in shifts six days a week, 24 hours a day, since construction began in January 2018.

"When this is done you'll be able to leave Brandon, get on the expressway and get all the way to the Gandy Bridge and into St. Petersburg without hitting a traffic light," said Russel Dingman, an assistant project manager with contractor Kiewit Construction. "It will relieve a lot of traffic on Gandy."

The work can't wrap up soon enough for people traveling Gandy Boulevard, including Sharon Cherry, 52, who was shopping at Walmart on Wednesday afternoon. Cherry hopes the extension will bring people who now avoid this stretch "back to local businesses."

For those building the extension, it's a story told in numbers:

• The connector's two lanes of roadway, east and west, will be made up of 744 precast segments, each of them 72 tons and propped up by 55 columns rising 30 feet in the air.

• So far, six columns have been erected on the west end, three on the east end near the Gandy Bridge. Fifteen of the roadway segments have been lifted into place so far, mostly on the east end.

• Crews need 12 cranes of all sizes to move all the pieces into place. The smallest crane is 60 tons, the largest 500 tons.

Here's the breakdown on how crews are spending some of the two years and nine months or so that they'll need to finish the job:

• Building stabilizing walls, 150 days; creating the foundation, 420 days; erecting the columns, 390 days; completing the roadway segments, 840 days.

• Widening and 150 days widening Gandy Boulevard below, from Bridge Street west to the Gandy Bridge, will take 150 days.

• Ramp work to get traffic on and off the extension will take 720 days. Four ramps already in place are being revamped and three new ones are being built — an on ramp and off ramp at Dale Mabry Boulevard and a ramp enabling motorists from traveling east from St. Petersburg to enter the extension just past the bridge.

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Toll revenue and bonds are paying the $230 million tab on the project. The additional toll for traveling the extension amounts to $1.19, or 94 cents for those with SunPass.

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.

Commuters heading to St. Petersburg have to get off at Dale Mabry and drive Gandy to reach the bridge over Tampa Bay, adding to peak-time gridlock throughout South Tampa.

When the extension is complete, the Expressway Authority estimates the wait time at traffic signals on Gandy will drop by as much as half to two-thirds.

Nancy Kiley of Tampa, 67 and retired, hopes that's true. But she's skeptical.

Kiley spends all the time she can fishing and was headed out on another trip Wednesday afternoon from the Gandy boat ramp. It's a place she avoids during beach-season weekends because the traffic is so bad.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Kiley said, looking around her. "All these cars will suddenly disappear?"

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.


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