tampabay.com

Brandon commuters can ride high 2 ways now

By HELEN ANNE TRAVIS
Published August 30, 2006


TAMPA - Brandon commuters were given a new option both morning and evening as of Tuesday, when the elevated lanes of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway opened eastbound for the first time.

"It's been a very exciting day," said Maricell Venegas, public information officer for the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority. "Everything's running fine."

Tuesday's opening was the final stage of the $420-million project to build elevated, reversible lanes to ease congestion on the ground-level Crosstown between Brandon and Tampa.

The lanes opened for morning commuters westbound in July, but more work was needed to finish the eastbound toll system.

The elevated lanes are available only to those with a SunPass transponder, and the toll is $1 each way.

The lanes are open eastbound from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hours should be extended by the end of September, Venegas said.

Some commuters say they're happy to see the second stage open for business.

"I think it's great," said Phyllis White, 48, a Valrico resident who works for Time Customer Service in Tampa. White said the lanes shaved at least 10 minutes off her commute.

"The worst part of the drive was getting to the Crosstown," White said.

Plus, the clear lanes offered a nice reprieve from the congestion below.

"There's only about 10 of us up here," she said from her cell phone on her way home Tuesday. "I was watching the lower lanes, and they're all backed up."

It has been an uphill climb to the opening of the elevated lanes.

Unstable soil beneath the Crosstown caused a support pier of the half-built elevated bridge to buckle in April 2004. A portion of the roadway crashed to the median below. The authority later filed a lawsuit against its contractors, URS Corp., which is still ongoing.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at 661-2439, or at htravis@sptimes.com