Detour lets motorists remain on Veterans
By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Drivers will find some relief now that a two-lane detour has been built around a damaged bridge on the Veterans Expressway.
This morning, commuters can head south on the expressway south of the Hillsborough Avenue interchange for the first time since Dec. 28, when a tanker crashed into the bridge. Until now, thousands of commuters have had to exit at Hillsborough Avenue and use local roads to go south during peak traffic hours.
"We totally expect this will help out with the morning and afternoon rush hour," said Michael Washburn, a state Department of Transportation spokesman. "This will allow motorists to stay on the Veterans Expressway down to south of the airport and State Road 60."
The new, temporary lanes will reroute all southbound traffic to the median alongside the northbound lanes and around the damaged bridge, which is expected to take two months to replace.
The temporary, 45-mph lanes will rejoin the original southbound lanes south of the bridge over westbound Independence Parkway.
Northbound Veterans Expressway traffic will not be affected.
Originally, transportation officials had estimated it would take two weeks to build the detour, but it was completed in about half that time by Cone & Graham Construction employees, who worked virtually around the clock, Washburn said.
The tanker, driven by John Hopkins of Tampa, crashed at a 90-degree turn on the exit ramp to Independence Parkway from Eisenhower Boulevard, where it passes beneath the Veterans Expressway. The crash caused an inferno that damaged the bridge so seriously that it must be replaced.
Hopkins escaped with minor injuries and was issued a careless driving ticket. But the damage he caused to this major traffic artery has affected tens of thousands of drivers who use the road each day.
Although the southbound expressway detour is open, two ramps will stay shut for now.
The southbound entrance to the Veterans Expressway from Memorial Highway and the northbound exit to Independence Parkway from the Veterans Expressway will remain closed for the duration of the bridge project.
The project includes the demolition of the damaged concrete bridge deck and eight prestressed concrete beams. The bridge retaining wall must be repaired and a new beam and new deck are needed.
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