Downtown Selmon Greenway clears planning hurdle
TAMPA - A plan to create a recreational trail beneath and adjacent to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway through downtown Tampa has cleared a feasibility hurdle but faces an uphill fight for funding. The proposal is to create a multi-use trail like those in downtown Boston, Minneapolis and other cities. Such a path for cyclists and pedestrians also is prudent in Tampa, according to a study by a consulting firm hired by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization. At its Dec. 14 meeting, the MPO supported the feasibility plan's findings. Now the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority will seek a way to pay for the Selmon Greenway. The owner-operator of a downtown bicycle shop who is familiar with the trail proposal said it would be an excellent link among downtown, Ybor City, Hyde Park, the Channel District and beyond."Everyone is extremely excited about it," said Kellie Cyr, of City Bike Tampa, citing buzz among customers and other cyclists. There are no trails downtown or nearby, said Cyr, who has participated in meetings about the greenway and believes it will take time for the proposal to gain widespread acceptance. She is optimistic: "Everything will come to fruition, but you've got to have funding for it," she said. An expressway authority spokeswoman said the agency hopes to pay for the greenway by incorporating it into a broader project - widening a stretch of the 30-year-old Selmon toll road to six lanes and replacing the decking on the existing four lanes. Using a $75 million lawsuit settlement related to the 2004 collapse of the expressway's reversible lanes, the authority will restructure its debt, spokeswoman Susan Chrzan said. The authority's board voted to use that money to pay down long-term debt, allowing it to borrow $300 million to $400 million for other projects. "We're going to issue new bonds so (we) can do the widening of the area downtown, from about 19th Street to the river; we call it the viaduct," Chrzan said. That could happen as early as this spring, at which time the viaduct project contractor would be selected. "Were still are in the planning stage; we're still in the trying-to-find-the-money stage," Chrzan said. "We're going to try and see if we can get money within that bond structure" to include the greenway, a project of about $2 million. "We're hoping we can do other things" under the debt restructuring and bond issue, she said. "But we're not yet ready to say it's a go." Other funding sources will be in the authority's sights. "We'll probably be going and asking for help to get the money," Chrzan said. "That might be city, county, federal, wherever we can get it; grants bonds, whatever." The expressway authority proposed the multi-use trail more than a decade ago, a 15-foot-wide urban path to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to the Downtown Riverwalk, Meridian Street Greenway, Bayshore Boulevard and the Channel District. The trail also is intended to increase downtown park space and add art and educational elements. "We think its great idea," Chrzan said. "It's not that it's a dead issue; it's that we have to find the money for it." The executive summary of the proposed Selmon Greenway calls it, "a unique opportunity to include a walking/cycling facility in a highway reconstruction project." Planners envision the 1.7-mile greenway including benches, fountains and outdoor exercise equipment, plus lighting for safety and aesthetics. Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway was built where Interstate 93 once ran before the Big Dig project took the highway underground. In Minneapolis, the Midtown Greenway is a 5.5-mile stretch through downtown along an old rail line. In Tampa, much of the right of way beneath the toll road is used for public parking. The feasibility study shows the greenway would eliminate 86 of those 973 spaces, but they won't be missed, Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, has said. Downtown parking garages have 22,000 spaces and on-street parking in the area accommodates another 2,000 vehicles. The downtown group is squarely behind the proposal and has received no negative comments about it.