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Highway cost leaps by millions

A study estimates up to $140-million for a New Tampa connector to I-275 - almost eight times the price envisioned in 2000.

By RODNEY THRASH
Published March 30, 2005


TAMPA - Nearly five years ago, Tampa's transportation chief stood before a crowd of 600 people with some good news: The cost of a proposed roadway offering direct access to Interstate 275 from New Tampa had shrunk from $30-million to less than $18-million.

Since that August 2000 gathering at Wharton High School, the cost of the East-West Road has changed at least five times, each amount higher than the next.

But the Florida Turnpike Enterprise's projection has bested them all.

"We're estimating ... $130- to $140-million," turnpike spokeswoman Joanne Hurley said.

It was the one finding that emerged this week from the toll authority's study of the 3-mile highway. Last year, the turnpike, which operates the Veterans Expressway and the Suncoast Parkway, expressed an interest in partnering with Tampa to build the East-West Road. Proponents of the project have contended for years that a connector road is necessary to take cars off overburdened Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, but city officials have never figured out where they would get the money to build it.

The agency paid for its own analysis despite previous studies from the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority and an independent consultant. Hurley said the turnpike agency recently completed its research, but was mum on specifics.

So how can the East-West Road now be nearly eight times that amount? Not even Roy LaMotte, who succeeded Elton Smith as Tampa's transportation czar last year, can tell you.

"That's very dramatic," he said. Just eight months earlier, at a town hall meeting, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said the road would cost nearly $96-million. How the turnpike agency arrived at $140-million is beyond LaMotte. "I'd like to see what it includes," he said. "Are they working in costs of the right of way? Costs of the pond?"

There's a shortage of building materials such as concrete and steel, Hurley said. The longer it takes to get those materials, the higher the price.

[Last modified March 30, 2005, 01:02:04]


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