TAMPA — It cost taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars for land and construction to be able to take a two-minute drive in their own vehicles.
But the long-awaited Interstate 4-Selmon Expressway Connector began to pay off Monday morning as soon as it opened in the dark and fog.
Truck drivers heading between the Port of Tampa and I-4 paid $1 to use the elevated toll road in lieu of driving through the heart of Ybor City and its gauntlet of traffic lights, saving up to eight or 10 minutes of drive time, fuel and hassle.
Other motorists paying 50 cents and up began to use the Connector between I-4 and the Selmon Expressway, finding a more convenient way to move between the major parallel thoroughfares that serve Hillsborough County.
“Luckily there have been no issues out here,” Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Interstate construction spokesman John McShaffrey said.
McShaffrey had parked just beyond the all-electronic toll collection facility where he enjoyed a good vantage point of the one-mile main segment of the connector and a new view of the downtown Tampa skyline.
“We have no estimates of traffic for the first day,” McShaffrey said. “Of course, it will take some time for drivers to become aware of its availability and begin using it.
FDOT estimates 28,000 vehicles per day will use the Connector this year. Port of Tampa officials have estimated the Connector could take more than 6,000 of the daily 10,000 truck trips that are currently made through Ybor City.
Ybor City is expected to be a major beneficiary of the Connector, along with prospects for the Port of Tampa to better market its transportation network, emergency preparedness officials to add a storm evacuation route and motorists who seek a convenient alternative route for their commutes or visits.
By midday Monday, 21st and 22nd streets through downtown Ybor City continued to handle big trucks, but seemingly not quite as many as before the Connector’s opening.
Around noon, about one or two big trucks a minute were headed through downtown Ybor City, compared with five or six a minute on a weekday in mid-December.
The FDOT says significant work remains to be done over the next few months — mostly off the roadway. This includes landscaping, work on side streets, and other aesthetic improvements.