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Girding for gridlock
By JEAN HELLER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001
TAMPA -- It is going to be a super week, all right -- unless you are trying to get from here to there at the wrong time in the wrong place.
They are coming by plane, train and automobile toward their nexus Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. But between now and then, and for perhaps 24 hours after Super Bowl XXXV ends, the skies above and the streets below are going to be a challenge.
"It's going to be quite crowded," said Yoli Buss, a spokeswoman for the AAA Auto Club South. "Plan ahead. If you have to be out, leave plenty of time. If you don't have to be out, stay home."
Other than congestion and delays, Tampa police say they don't expect serious problems, and St. Petersburg police say they don't expect any problems.
"The significant event will be around Raymond James on game day, on Himes and Dale Mabry between I-275 and Hillsborough Avenue," said Joe Durkin, spokesman for the Tampa Police Department. "It will be a lot like any Buccaneer Sunday, only maybe a little more so with the special events around the stadium. As for special events, like concerts, we handle those every day."
Police confidence notwithstanding, there is going to be a lot more traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, than the area is used to seeing.
Officials expect more than 400 private and corporate jets at Tampa International Airport, and somewhere between 200 and 400 at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International, arriving at various times this week, and all leaving in the first 24 hours after the game.
One factor that could cut into those estimates is the matchup for the big game, the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens. Many New Yorkers are in Florida for the winter, and Baltimore is not as large a metropolitan area as some NFL cities.
Both airports will close runways to provide parking for the jets, and TIA will have two temporary helicopter pads at the far east end of its closed strip to accommodate commercial shuttle helicopters bringing fly-in fans from Orlando and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International. The helipads will have their own temporary air traffic control tower.
Inside the terminals, the effect should not extend beyond the additional passengers coming in for the game. CBS and other production companies have scheduled charter flights, and, of course, the two teams were expected to arrive by charter.
Despite the fact that the region has hosted two previous Super Bowls, they were different from this one, and little of the aviation experience gleaned from those events will be useful this week.
"In 1984, most of the people coming in flew regular commercial flights," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. "There were no waves of private jets. And in 1991, there were a lot of cancellations because of the Gulf War. This time is going to be quite different."
Limousines are going at a premium.
David Shaw, general manager of Allstar Limousines of St. Petersburg and Tampa, said he expects to see at least 1,000 of the stretch luxury vehicles on local roads.
"The demand is overwhelming, incredible," Shaw said. "People want anything from stretch to exotic cars, stretch (Lincoln) Navigators and (Cadillac) Escalades, Hummers, stretch Mercedes, Lexus, Jags and even stretch PT Cruisers."
The indulgence isn't cheap. The cost of a regular stretch limo that will carry eight to 10 passengers is $125 an hour with 10-hour minimums per day and, for the Super Bowl weekend, three-day minimums. The enormous stretch Navigator, with its 28-passenger capacity, goes for up to $3,000 a day.
Shaw has 30 vehicles in his fleet, and even before the Super Bowl opponents were decided he had 75 bookings and expected 100 more.
"Five or six companies are coming in to supply additional vehicles," he said. "Companies as far away as Orlando are already booked. We're going as far away as Miami and Jacksonville for cars."
Rental-car companies also are seeing a big boost in demand in what is their Florida high-demand period.
"We're seeing significant increases in Tampa and Orlando," Hertz spokeswoman Paula Stifter said. "It peaks over Super Bowl weekend. We obviously are adding a lot of cars to the Tampa area fleet."
Stifter won't talk about raw numbers. Hertz considers that proprietary information.
A week before the game, Amtrak officials were keeping a close watch on demand for seats on their trains. Spokesman Kevin Johnson said cars would be added to trains if demand warranted, but he didn't expect that to happen.
"I think most people going to the game already have their transportation reservations and hotel accommodations," Johnson said. "We don't expect an influx of last-minute reservations, but we are prepared to respond to it if it happens."
Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit doesn't plan to put more buses into the mix on the crowded streets.
"We'll be doing our best just to deliver normal service during the week," spokeswoman Jill Cappendoro said. "There will be some detours in the vicinity of the stadium on game day, but there are any time there's a football game. It gets difficult to service some areas of Himes and MLK."
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