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Selmon a 1-way escape?

An emergency official wants to use the expressway that way during hurricane evacuations.

Published July 6, 2006

TAMPA - If a Category 4 or 5 hurricane ever heads toward Tampa Bay, some local government officials would like to see one of Tampa's major toll roads converted to a one-way evacuation route.

They have asked the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority to prepare a proposal turning the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway into a one-way route east to help residents move to higher ground.

But officials say "contra-flow," the term given to such an undertaking, is not as simple as just turning traffic around.

"It is our desire to have a plan in place that would facilitate a quick evacuation of the south Pinellas population coming across the Gandy Bridge, MacDill Air Force Base and the Interbay Peninsula population," said Larry Gispert, Hillsborough County's emergency management director, in a letter to the expressway authority.

"We envision the expressway would flow from Gandy Boulevard to I-75 and U.S. 301," he wrote.

Expressway authority officials say engineers are looking into the issue.

"We're doing it in an expedited fashion, but there is no study as of yet," said spokeswoman Beth Leytham.

The Selmon Expressway's reversible elevated rush-hour road connecting weekday commuters in a 9-mile stretch from Tampa to Brandon is expected to be completed in August, Leytham said. The elevated segment would provide additional contra-flow lanes.

Hillsborough emergency planners raised the road flow issue at a May 24 emergency drill, which was part of a statewide exercise based on a Category 4 hurricane slamming into Florida's west coast.

Changing directions for an emergency wouldn't be simple, said Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Thomas Knight.

"It ties up a large amount of law enforcement," he said.

Knight, who helped with contra-flow plans for Interstate 4, said that those plans call for more than 200 troopers, with 37 staffed posts and numerous cones, flashing messages, stationary signs and fuel tankers.

The current plan for I-4 includes a 63-mile reversal of the westbound side. Only eastbound traffic would be permitted from Interstate 275 in Tampa to Orlando, Knight said.

In 1999, a comprehensive plan was created in the wake of traffic jams caused by the threat of Hurricane Floyd. The state came close to using the plan during evacuations for Hurricane Frances in 2004, but determined that traffic flow was reasonable.

Knight said he's concerned that reversing traffic on the Selmon Expressway could create a problem where the highways meet.

"We don't want to shut down north and southbound I-75 to do a contra-flow at the Crosstown," he said.

Tampa police Maj. John Bennett said he's confident traffic engineers will come up with a workable plan and that his department would likely be able to handle the Selmon Expressway's traffic reversal.

Aldo Nahed can be reached at or 813 310-0998.

[Last modified July 9, 2006, 09:06:56]

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