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Expressway costs creep back up

As estimates climb back to $80-million, planners delay the opening of the new elevated lanes to Aug. 14, 2006.

Published March 29, 2005

TAMPA - Roller-coaster estimates on the cost of repairing Tampa's elevated expressway are up again.

The price is likely to reach $80-million, with another $16-million set aside for unanticipated problems, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority was told Monday.

The added cost is a result of moving utility lines to build better supports for bridge columns, said expressway authority spokeswoman Beth Leytham.

"The whole conduit situation down there is much more difficult that we thought it would be, and it's going to take more extensive work than we planned," Leytham said. "It involves moving conduits that carry electric power and water and other utilities. It's a big job."

The authority board also learned that the timetable for opening the new elevated lanes of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway has been moved back a month to Aug. 14, 2006.

The project has seemed snakebitten since last April, when a support column near 50th Street suddenly sank, destroying two segments of roadway.

More problems were discovered and bridge work was stopped. Early estimates suggested underground supports had been set in soil and rock too flimsy to support the road and traffic.

Pat McCue, former executive director of the authority, estimated repair costs at $80-million.

After McCue left, interim executive director Ralph Mervine said $80-million was a worst-case scenario. He said fewer columns would need the most extensive repair.

Mervine estimated repairs at $70-million, with an additional 10 percent set aside for unexpected problems.

The need to move utility lines ended that optimism. But Monday's meeting also brought some good news.

The first new segments of roadway to be constructed since the collapse are being set into place just west of where the collapse occurred.

With construction starting again, Mervine said the Aug. 14 opening date was set in stone with the contractor. The road itself will be completed next February, but it will take six months to install variable message signs, gates, lights and other devices.

"That six months between completion of the bridge and (its opening to) traffic is a period where we're trying to shave some time," Mervine said.

When completed, the three-lane, 6-mile bridge will carry express traffic between Brandon and downtown Tampa.

All three lanes will be westbound in the morning and eastbound at night, and the bridge will be open only to customers of SunPass, the electronic toll collection system.

[Last modified March 29, 2005, 01:30:12]

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