Opposition to Gandy elevated roadway rekindled
March 1, 2010
They've gathered hundreds of signatures on petitions, packed dozens of public hearings to voice their outrage and written angry letters to state transportation officials.
Now opponents of a proposed elevated roadway over Gandy Boulevard are turning to the Tampa City Council for support. They argue the project will force business owners into bankruptcy and cause property values in surrounding neighborhoods to tumble.
"This project will turn Gandy Boulevard into a graveyard," said Linda Bell, owner Triage Consignment Showcase. "We didn't like the previous plans and we don't like this one."
Bell is one of dozens of protestors who plan to converge on council chambers Thursday to voice their concerns about the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority project to the city's seven-member governing body.
While the city council doesn't have a vote on the roadway, opponents like Al Steenson, president of the Gandy Civic Association, hope to enlist their help to fight the project.
"We didn't elect these people to sit on their hands and remain silent," he said. "They're supposed to be representing the community's interests, even if they can't vote on it."
Opposition to the project dates back more than two decades. The two-lane elevated roadway, as proposed by the expressway authority, would extend the Selmon Crosstown Expressway over to Gandy Bridge.
The project, which has gone through many changes over the years, is aimed at reducing rush-hour traffic on Gandy and providing another evacuation route from Pinellas County.
The Florida Department of Transportation has given a green light to move ahead with the project and the authority's board of directors is expected vote on it March 22.
If approved, the $115 million project isn't expected to break ground until 2013. Funding for the project would come from bonds backed by future revenue from toll collections.
Sue Chrzan, a spokeswoman for the expressway authority, said the new proposal is less invasive than previous designs and would be done in segments to avoid disruptions.
Previous proposals called for destroying nearly 200 homes and businesses, she said, and expressway officials have made every attempt to incorporate the concerns of Gandy business owners and residents into the new conceptual designs for the roadway.
The current proposal also wouldn't displace any businesses or homes, Chrzan said.
She said there is still opposition to the project, but much less than in previous years.
"There are people in the neighborhood who just don't want anything," Chrzan said.
Mark Rubio, who owns several commercial and residential properties along Gandy, said after years of fighting the project, many people feel like it's "being crammed down their throats."
He said few believe the project will alleviate traffic congestion along the boulevard, because it will mean more vehicles passing through to get to somewhere else.
"The structure is a massive, concrete, two-story bridge that's flat-out ugly," he said. "We just don't want it."
The council meets Thursday at 9 a.m. in city hall at 315 E. Kennedy Blvd. in downtown.