Highway link plan unveiled

By Robbyn Mitchell, Times Staff Writer

Published Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TAMPA — Gandy-Sun Bay South residents got a look at the latest iteration of what seems to be a never-ending parade of plans to connect the Gandy Bridge to the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway on Tuesday night at Monroe Middle School.

Most in the crowd of more than 50 wanted to gather enough support to defeat the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority's planned 20 to 30 foot, two-lane toll bridge down the center of Gandy Boulevard.

But not everyone was opposed.

"I live two blocks from Gandy Boulevard and Westshore and I work in St. Petersburg, and the traffic every morning is terrible," said Richard Joyner, who has been commuting to Jabil Circuit for 12 years. "It takes 45 minutes to get 8 miles during rush hour."

After a presentation by the Expressway Authority's director of planning, Martin Stone, people were allowed to look at large graphics of the elevated roadway and write their comments for the expressway board's consideration.

Stone said the road isn't congested 24 hours a day, but during rush hour the traffic lights along the route bring traffic that is just trying to pass through to Brandon or back to Pinellas to a standstill on the four lane road.

"The toll road would act as a bypass for people who would not have been stopping in the Gandy area anyway," Stone said.

The plan does not call for purchasing any property or relocating businesses unless they install optional roundabouts at Westshore Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue intersections.

The elevated road would be built off-site and assembled in segments in off-peak hours, to minimize construction interference, he said. The cost, estimated at $112 million to $138 million, would be paid by the Expressway Authority, which finances its work with tolls.

Jamie McDaniels said he supports the elevated road because congestion is so bad that he doesn't go to any of the local businesses he once frequented.

"I like the idea especially with the higher bridge. It's more aesthetically pleasing," he said.

Gandy Boulevard business owners say the bridge will steal traffic that they depend on, and nullify the $20 million Florida Department of Transportation beautification work they've endured for two years.

Jim Kotsiviras owns several shopping centers on the boulevard and said business properties are valued by how high the traffic count is on the roadway.

"If you're going to take all the traffic out with this thing, you might as well buy all the properties because there are no businesses under a bridge," he said.

Both sides agree that even though this was the third meeting about the proposed project, most residents didn't know anything about the connector.

Kotsiviras said he's been circulating a petition against the connector, and most people have no idea what its about.

"There should be mailers or something sent out to let people know about these meetings," he said.

Scan Design Furniture owner Mikael Eskildsen created the petitions. To date they've collected more than 2,000 signatures, he said.

Resident and Expressway Board member Stephen Diaco said he hopes others will look at the long-term effects.

"Let's just think about the future," he urged the crowd. "And if this thing doesn't have community support I will be the first to vote it down."

A public hearing for the project is set for July 21.


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