January 21,2009 By RICH SHOPES | The Tampa Tribune
The Gandy extension idea isn't dead in the water, after all.
After being decried by South Tampa business owners and residents for 20 years, a proposal to extend the Selmon Crosstown Expressway two miles to the Gandy Bridge is gaining momentum.
"I think people are willing to listen. They want to know more," said Al Steenson, president of the Gandy/Sunbay South Civic Association.
Unlike past proposals, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority's plan comes with a twist:
In addition to the elevated road, the authority proposes two roundabouts to replace traffic lights â?? at Manhattan Avenue and West Shore Boulevard â?? to slow traffic and keep it flowing, and to reshape Gandy into a Main Street shopping district.
It would merge two smaller entrances at Culbreath Key and Regency Cove, housing developments on the western end of Gandy Boulevard, into one large entrance, and install a traffic signal at the new entrance to allow drivers to turn left onto Gandy.
Residents currently must turn right then make a U-turn.
"That right there is amazing," said Dave Gutcher, president-elect of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce. "Combing those into a single entrance and exit with a light makes so much sense in the world."
The authority, which revealed its proposal to a citizens advisory group Tuesday night, said the plan is tentative and months from being approved. The roundabouts, along with other portions of the plan, could be stricken if residents so choose.
The authority said its aim is to relieve congestion on Gandy Boulevard by diverting traffic destined for downtown or Pinellas County onto the expressway extension.
The extension would carry two lanes, one in each direction, with wide shoulders, and run from Dale Mabry Highway to just west of Bridge Street.
The authority said it hopes to capture 30 percent to 40 percent of Gandy traffic with the extension. Between 42,000 to 48,500 cars use Gandy daily, according to traffic counts two years ago, the most recent analysis.
The authority would collect tolls of 25 cents to 50 cents to fund the project. If the plan doesn't gain enough community support at its public meetings, the authority has said it will walk away.
"We want people to be honest with us, to tell us what they like and don't like, what concerns them about the project," authority spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said.
Residents and business owners have complained for years about traffic on Gandy but have roundly rejected proposals to deal with that traffic by building an elevated road down Gandy.
Last year, the Department of Transportation began work on an alternative. It's reconstructing Gandy with a landscaped median, turn lanes and through lanes. The project is expected to be completed in the fall.
Though the expressway authority's idea has some support, not everyone is enthused.
"It's going to split the neighborhood," said Jerry Frankhouser, president of the Bayside West Neighborhood Association. "As fancy as it is, it's still going to be in the middle of the road."
Ellen Nimon, a resident of Regency Cove said, "I don't like the roundabouts at all. I hate that one in Clearwater. I don't know what they're going to do about those trucks coming from the port."
But Chrzan said the authority won enough support from citizens studying the idea to advance to the next step, to produce conceptual drawings and perform detailed analysis, including traffic counts. The project's cost and building time are still undetermined.
The next meeting of the citizens-based Project Advisory Group is mid-March.
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