For Gandy, elevated bypass makes sense

Published Friday, April 20, 2009

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority has the best concept to date for improving the flow of traffic on Gandy Boulevard. The authority unveiled drawings this week of an elevated bypass that would connect the Tampa side of the bridge to the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway. The idea makes sense. It would free up Gandy Boulevard to local traffic, revitalizing the commercial thoroughfare. And it would ease commutes between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The authority should present more details with the goal of making a decision this fall.

Officials have worked for years to propose a fix for Gandy. But any meaningful plan to improve traffic flow has butted up against the concerns of local residents who do not want their commercial thoroughfare to become a superhighway. Area businesses also are concerned that speeding traffic along Gandy would make it easier for motorists to bypass them.

That's why the authority's plan is so promising. Moving pass-through traffic to an upper deck makes Gandy more inviting to local traffic. It would not be as intimidating to patronize Gandy-area groceries, shops and other businesses. And retailers should not worry. Motorists who would pay to use the expressway are not customers anyway. Officials say 40 percent of the 45,000 cars on Gandy every day is pass-through traffic. These are people who are rushing to work, ball games or home — not people in the market for groceries, lunch or furniture. Easing congestion on Gandy would make area neighborhoods safer by cutting down on pass-through traffic. And the bypass would serve both counties by adding much-needed evacuation capacity. Having motorists from Pinellas use the elevated road during a hurricane evacuation, for example, would free up the lower-level boulevard for south Tampa residents.

The bypass' design, though conceptual, is sleek in scale. The two-lane roadway would not look out of place along Gandy. The authority also believes the roadway is financially doable. It would cost an estimated $112 million to $138 million. The toll could be as little as 25 cents. This is a manageable project for the authority to design, build and operate. The time frame and the costs look reasonable, and unlike previous proposals, the bypass would not require the authority to take businesses or homes. The authority should do its diligence and put a price, and a design, on the table this summer.

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