THEA 60 for 60: Expressway Authority celebrates anniversary, plans for Tampa's future

This story is produced through an underwriting agreement between 83 Degrees Media and the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA).
The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with a “60 for 60” campaign that spotlights the agency’s accomplishments and its role in shaping the city’s future. 

“We are focused on where Tampa’s going, not where Tampa has been,” says THEA Executive Director Greg Slater. “We are trying to make sure that our investments create an impact in the community.  We’ve served this community well for the last 60 years. We’ve not only solved problems, but we’ve been a good community partner. The challenge I’ve given our team is, for the next 60 years, how, instead of serving the community, do we become more a part of the community? How do we take the best of what we’ve done and put that together to serve the community for the next 60 or 100 years?”

Creating connections

Slater, who started with THEA in January 2022, has expanded the agency’s vision beyond the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, the toll road that runs from Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa to just east of Interstate 75 in Brandon, to become a partner in providing a network of transportation options that meet the community’s needs and growth. 
“If you think about where we are as an expressway, we traverse through so many neighborhoods and communities, including a downtown corridor that has seen so much growth,” he says. “We are the type of transportation asset that can either divide those communities or bring them together. We want to bring them together. We’re here for accessibility. We’re here for mobility. One thing we find is because the expressway is an elevated bridge structure, that space underneath is a great asset for us to use to connect the communities on either side. It’s such great, usable space. You realize very quickly living in Florida what a great commodity shade is. So, we are trying to use the underpasses to very intentionally create connected, community spaces in the shade.”

A centerpiece of that vision is the 1.7-mile Selmon Greenway, the urban trail that runs under the expressway from downtown near the Hillsborough River through the Channel District and Water Street Tampa neighborhoods to Ybor City. THEA has a master plan for the Selmon Greenway that proposes a connection through Frye Park downtown to link with the Tampa Riverwalk.

“If you build that connection between the Greenway and the Riverwalk, you’ve then built miles and miles of connection for people walking, biking and using scooters,” Slater says. 

In the Ybor City area, Slater says the vision is to connect the Selmon Greenway with Gas Worx, the mixed-use redevelopment project now under construction that will have pedestrian and bike facilities integrated with the TECO Line Streetcar system. 

Community spaces

From his office window, Slater can see the Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park in the Channel District. 

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park in the Channel District.Named in honor of the Hillsborough County deputy who was killed by a wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, the dog park is THEA’s first pocket park under the Selmon.  The park is well-lit, shaded and used around the clock, Slater says. It’s a model project for THEA’s long-term vision to activate open space under the expressway as community space. That vision includes enhancing the community with more pocket parks and the addition of trailheads where people can gather and access the Selmon Greenway. 

“How do we take some of our most successful projects and create more of them?” Slater says. “We are looking at more dog parks. We have areas where we are looking at pickleball courts. I’m talking with a group about skateboarding. EV charging stations, food trucks, farmers' markets. Those are some of the fun projects we get to work on.”

The stormwater retention pond between the THEA offices and Four Green Fields Irish pub could potentially be landscaped, beautified and transformed into a small park, he says. Near USF Health, concepts include an outdoor meeting space. Slater says before any concept or vision moves forward, there will be public outreach to  “make sure what we want to do matches the community’s energy and needs.” 

The effort to transform the land under the expressway into active community spaces is also underway for roughly a half-acre of available property at Bay to Bay Boulevard and MacDill Avenue. The property will be developed into a park as part of a future expressway construction project that will add a travel lane in each direction along the roughly 4.5 miles from the eastern end of the Selmon Extension to the six-lane section near the overpass at Florida Avenue in Downtown Tampa. 

THEA has already committed to developing a dog park on part of the property. In an online community survey earlier this year, the public overwhelmingly requested pickleball courts and space for farmers and craft markets as other additions. A playground and space for food trucks also scored high. 

Selmon Expressway improvements and expansion 

Back in 1963, a special act of the Florida Legislature created THEA as an agency that would use a toll funding model to bring roadway infrastructure projects online more quickly. Historic photo of the construction of the Southern Crosstown Expressway, which was later renamed the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

In 1976, the first stretch of the Southern Crosstown Expressway, as the toll road was then known, opened, connecting downtown to Gandy Boulevard at Dale Mabry.

Today, the Selmon Expressway, named for Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Lee Roy Selmon, stretches 15 miles from Gandy in South Tampa to east of Interstate 75 in Brandon. It is a heavily traveled road. As the Tampa area’s population has boomed, traffic along the Selmon Expressway has increased 80 percent over the last decade, according to THEA.  Slater says traffic counts along the Selmon Extension in the Gandy Boulevard area, which opened in 2021, are already at levels projected for 2030.

With the heavy use of the road and Tampa’s ongoing population growth - a 38 percent increase is projected by 2045 - THEA has a series of projects in the works to create a roadway of the future by adding capacity and improving safety, access and flow.

In early November, THEA opened two newly constructed slip ramps along the eastern Selmon Expressway as new access and exit points that will help reduce travel times for westbound drivers using the reversible express lanes and reduce congestion on local roads below the expressway. Thanks to the new ramps, drivers seamlessly enter the reversible express lanes near I-75 and exit the reversible lanes near the Interstate 4 connector, just before the IKEA store. From there, drivers can continue on the local lanes of the Selmon Expressway. Slater says the lanes will help motorists bypass congestion at US 301 and Falkenburg Road and the congestion near the I-4 connector.

“If you’re using the reversible express lane, historically what you’d have to do is get off downtown,” Slater says. “So, we’re seeing a lot of traffic that was getting off downtown, traversing through the city and then jumping back on the expressway, or on Bayshore going down toward MacDill. To solve some of those issues we needed to balance the traffic between the reversible express lane and the local lanes underneath. So, we created a series of slip ramps where, one, you can jump on a little bit earlier and bypass the congestion we were seeing between Falkenburg and 301. Second, right around exit 9, right before IKEA, you can jump back on the mainline expressway and continue all the way through to South Tampa without having to get off downtown. That project is going to buy us five years of growth.”

In South Tampa, THEA plans to wrap up planning in approximately six months and start construction in 2024 on a project to add a travel lane in each direction along the 4.5-mile stretch from Himes Avenue to the Florida Avenue overpass downtown. Safety improvements will include wider shoulders and addressing current issues with some short merge lanes. The landscaped area under the Selmon Extension.The project will also bring the aesthetic feel and look of the blue and white Selmon Extension to that stretch of the expressway.  

THEA is also in the early stages of planning a large-scale expansion project in south Hillsborough County that would be similar to the Selmon Extension along the median of Gandy Boulevard. Slater says THEA is working closely with the Florida Department of Transportation on a project that would extend the Selmon Expressway down the median of US 301 to Big Bend Road to reduce congestion and commute times in an area seeing intense population growth.

“That buys a lot of time and solves some of the issues that you're seeing not only on 301 but also on I-75,” Slater says.


As THEA celebrates 60 years, Slater says the agency is committed to being community-focused and forward-thinking, looking at how to integrate technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles and the growth in the use of electric vehicles into the expressway system and the transportation network. 

With road projects that will last 60 to 100 years thanks to modern design standards and building materials, Slater says THEA must continue to plan with Tampa’s long-term future in mind.THEA Executive Director Greg Slater.

“We have a tremendous amount of plans over the next decade,” Slater says. “Whether it’s our 60 for 60, building community partnerships and making investments, or whether it’s reconstructing the expressway to better meet the dense urban environment downtown or handle the growth, we’re focused on Tampa’s future. We challenge ourselves to be forward-thinking.”

For more information, go to Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority.
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.