For decades, gridlock had transformed Gandy Boulevard into a blighted parking lot, one that wrecks the nerves of commuters and discourages commerce along the road that crosses Tampa Bay into Pinellas County.
Now, after years of considering different controversial solutions, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority appears ready to build an elevated highway over Gandy. The project would extend the Selmon Expressway 1.6 miles from Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge.
Residents and business owners along the road can’t be blamed for being worried about the road’s impact. But the alternative is continued hopeless congestion, a far greater threat to the neighborhood.
As the Tribune’s Elaine Silvestrini reports, the authority voted Monday to spend about $2.6 million on an updated design for the elevated road, projected to cost between $165 million to $190 million. It could be finished by 2020 if all goes smoothly.
As we said when the proposal was initially floated in 2009, the raised highway would be good for Gandy businesses as well as regional commerce. It would cut 15 minutes or more off the southern route from Hillsborough and Pinellas, which should benefit residents and businesses in both counties.
Unlike past expressway proposals, the elevated road would not destroy homes or stores. It would be built on the Gandy median and also would be only two lanes, minimizing impacts.
There is no way, of course, to make the structure inconspicuous. But with a design that allows plenty of light below, and an overhaul of Gandy Boulevard to make the road more attractive and pedestrian friendly, the project should make Gandy more functional and appealing.
Local businesses would not have to worry about traffic jams blocking access. Residents would have an easier time getting home. Boaters could use the Gandy ramp without fear of being anchored by a traffic jam.
In addition, during a hurricane threat both elevated lanes could be converted to eastbound, which would help Pinellas residents evacuate, while relieving pressure on roads that would be used by Tampa residents moving to higher ground.
The project itself would be funded by tolls, not tax dollars.
Expressway authority officials are meeting with residents, and it is critical that the neighborhood’s welfare be a priority in the highway’s design.
But those who oppose the elevated highway should question whether a future of more interminable gridlock along Gandy will enhance residents’ quality of life or improve the outlook for local businesses.