TAMPA — It didn’t take long to count 30 heavy trucks rumbling between the Port of Tampa and Interstate 4 along Ybor City’s 21st and 22nd Streets Thursday morning: less than 5 minutes during an off-peak traffic period.
But shortly after New Years, nearly 10,000 daily truck trips are expected to disappear through the heart of town and along Adamo Drive/State Route 60 at the southern fringe, diverted to the new Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector that will open three decades after it was conceived.
By March, when the final touches are put on street projects beneath the elevated connector, the Florida Department of Transportation will turn Ybor City streets over to the control of the city of Tampa.
More on-street parking and other improvements are expected to enhance a district that’s lived with tankers, heavy flat-beds and tractor trailers rolling past the Columbia Restaurant and other businesses for decades. “We will be taking the truck routes through town off the maps,” said John McShaffrey, public information office for FDOT District 7 Interstate construction. “Trucks will want to use the connector to save time by avoiding traffic signals and save money on gasoline from starting and stopping.”
The Connector will benefit commuters and other motorists by adding easy access between the Selmon Expressway and Interstate 4 that currently is not available, McShaffrey said.
Many motorists from East Hillsborough suburbs who find the Selmon Expressway more convenient than I-4 and ultimately want to get onto I-275 use downtown Tampa streets, the congested 21st and 22nd streets, or North 50th Street to get between the Interstate and the expressway.
The Connector should shorten their time to reach Tampa International Airport, Pinellas County via the Howard Frankland Bridge and points north of Tampa by providing a quick link to I-4.
The Connector also will provide a hurricane evacuation route for Pinellas residents using the Gandy Bridge and the Selmon Expressway by providing improved access to I-4.
But eliminating heavy truck traffic from Ybor City was the prime rationale for the project with construction costs of $421 million — $105 million of which are federal stimulus funds — and another $100 million-plus for rights of way.
In addition, the Port of Tampa gains a marketing tool to use with shippers. Once truckers reach the entry point to the Crosstown just beyond the port’s property, they could reach Maine on the interstate system without encountering a traffic signal.
What’s more certain is that the $1 truck toll between the port and I-4 will create both a time and fuel savings, since the truckers no longer will have to contend with two sets of railroad tracks and seven busy intersections with traffic signals through Ybor City.
“It’s absolutely a plus for the port,” spokesman Andy Fobes said. “We use (the Connector) as a point of interest in our advertising and advertorial and in promoting the Port of Tampa as an increasingly excellent option.”
Rather than a simple straight route, the Connector will appear to motorists as a series of sweeping, curving elevated highway corridors with exclusive truck lanes that rise and decline to cross the Selmon and Ybor City development.
Three different traffic patterns are created for each direction, with the main corridor between the two multi-lane highways about a mile in length.
Trucks and other vehicles traveling between the I-4 and the Connector’s port interchange, which FDOT calls the “C” or “T-Move” route, will be charged $1 for SunPass or $1.25 for Toll-By-Plate.
Two-axle vehicles on the “B” Route or “Z-Move” heading west from the Selmon to west on I-4, or east on I-4 to east on the Selmon, will cost 50 cents with SunPass and 75 cents for Toll-By-Plate. Tolls for three axle vehicles and larger range from $1 up to $3.75 or more.
Two-axle vehicles heading east on the “A” route or “S-Move” east on Selmon to head east on I-4 will pay $1 for SunPass and $1.25 for Toll-By Plate. Tolls for three-axle vehicles and larger will range from $2 to $6.25 and up.
There is no corridor to travel eastbound on I-4 then head westbound on the Selmon, nor to travel westbound on the Selmon and eastbound on I-4.
Confusing? It should be a simple task to navigate if motorists are careful to follow signage, McShaffrey said.
Although the specific opening date has not been set, the elevated structure is basically ready, while work on barriers and other final touches remain.
“The last couple weeks is crunch time,” McShaffrey said of the joint venture project with PCL/Archer Western, which at peak times has involved 500 construction workers.
Work on landscaping, painting and other finishing touches below the Connector whose high point is 92 feet will be completed sometime in the early spring.
The Connector already has gained favor with a special user group. The “Run the Connector 5K” event on Dec 28 is sold out with 1,000 participants. Pedestrians and those interested in following the race will not be accommodated. Participants will be shuttled in from parking at the port.