Motorists will see sweeping views of Tampa's skyline as they zip and at times soar up and onto a series of criss-crossing ramps and bridges on the new I-4/Selmon Expressway Connector. At its highest point the connector is 92 feet high.
By early January state highway officials say major construction on the approximately $425 million project will be finished and the roadway open to traffic. Cleanup, painting and landscaping at ground level as well as repaving of some local streets will follow.
The first views from the roadway by non-drivers (other than construction workers) will come on Dec. 28 with a 5K race that will open the connector to 1,000 runners. Registration is closed and spectators will not be allowed to view the race.
"We're in the final stages of wrapping it up," says John McShaffrey, spokesman for Florida Department of Transportation, District Seven. "It was a tough project to build, one of the largest and most complex projects done in this district. You're talking about thousands of people who had their hands on this job at some point."
The connector runs north and south for just more than a mile linking Interstate 4 with Selmon Expressway, west of 31st Street. Trips to and from Brandon, southeastern Hillsborough County and points beyond such as Lakeland and Orlando will be much more direct.
Evacuations for hurricanes and other emergencies will be quicker and more efficient.
Design work was done by Tampa-based PBS&J; construction was a joint project between Tampa-based PCL and Archer Western.
Costs are shared by FDOT, Florida's Turnpike Enterprise and Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority and include a $105 million federal stimulus grant.
One of the most unique design features are two lanes dedicated to truck traffic, mostly headed into and out of the Port of Tampa from I-4. About 10,000 trucks are expected to shift to the connector from local streets including 21st and 22nd streets in Ybor City.
"That will alleviate a lot of congestion in Ybor City," says Andy Fobes, spokesman for Tampa Port Authority. "It's a big plus, a win-win, for shipping and citizens of Ybor."
Truck-toll only lanes are a trend catching on in states such as California. The concept is being studied by others, including Georgia.
Can't Wait For Dust To Settle
Ybor City business owners and residents are eager to have trucks banished from the heart of Tampa's most historic district. On any given day, 18-wheelers and flat-bed haulers rumble along 21st and 22nd streets at a steady clip kicking up dust and debris.
Columbia Restaurant's General Manager Jim Garris is "tickled" to know that some of the heaviest traffic that passes by will be gone. The restaurant sits on Seventh Avenue in historic Ybor City sandwiched between 21st and 22nd.
Trucks aren't the only culprits but they do contribute to fumes and dust thrown up on the painted terra-cotta tiles on the 21st street side of the restaurant. As for the heaviest trucks, Garris says, "They go rolling by at speeds so that you can feel it inside the restaurant especially near the windows on the cafe side."
In winter 2014 state highway officials say they will begin work on restriping the two streets from three to two lanes and allowing for on-street parking. Eventually the maintenance of the streets will be turned over to the city of Tampa.
Ybor City Chamber of Commerce President Tom Keating recalls instances where trucks hit or crashed through buildings.
"It's been a long time coming," he says. "We're really grateful for this. "It will gentrify the roads to some extent. The district will become immediately more walkable."
There are benefits to trucking companies and commuters as well, says McShaffrey.
"It's going to give commuters more options that they didn't have. It will make it more seamless for people to move around," he says. "Trucks will want to use the route because it will save time and money. They won't be sitting at red lights idling and using up fuel."
Speedier Entry/Exit At Tampa Port
At the port, a more-direct route means quicker deliveries and shorter times between arrival of goods in the port and their final market destinations.
"The port has staunchly supported this project," Fobes says. "We are extremely excited about its fruition."
The idea of the connector dates back more than two decades. Design work was done in the 2000s; construction began in March 2010.
At its widest point the roadway is 12 lanes wide. In total vehicles will have about 20 to 30 miles of road lanes to travel. A toll gantry that spans those 12 lanes will charge motorists electronically through SunPass transponders or Toll-By-Plate. Tolls will range from 50 cents to $1.25 for most vehicles. Trucks on the dedicated lanes will be charged $1.
Construction of such a massive project within confined spaces, next to and sometimes over railroad tracks and busy local streets is challenging, McShaffrey says.
"A lot of ramps in the project are segmental," he says. "Contractors built segments in the Port of Tampa area from the ground up."
The concrete segments were trucked to the site, and hung piece by piece. It is sort of like trying to keep a teeter-totter balanced, McShaffrey says.
"You had to keep balancing it as you went along," he says.
Crosstown Connector by the numbers
- 1,000+ drilled shafts equal to 10 miles
- 1+ mile of bridge columns
- 2,765+ bridge segments
- 100+ miles of post tensioning strands
- 180,000+ cubic yards of concrete
- 1.5+ million square feet of bridge decks equal to nearly 40 acres
- Six miles of drainage pipes
- 60,000+ linear feet of bridge girders equal to about 12 miles
- Almost 60,000 linear square feet of concrete barrier walls
- 300,000+ square feet of retaining walls
- 25+ million pounds of reinforced steel
Kathy Steele is a freelance writer living in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.