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Budget holds hope for bay area roads

Under a deal proposed in the Legislature, the region would get $955-million.

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Some $955-million in Tampa Bay road projects are included in a transportation budget lawmakers tentatively endorsed Monday.

Tampa Bay receives more attention than any other region in Florida under the "Mobility 2000" plan Gov. Jeb. Bush announced in January. Lawmakers now expect to add a few hundred million to the pot to complete more than $4-billion in road and transportation projects by 2010.

"Our goal is to move goods, people -- and whatever else is out there -- between cities," said Sen. Daniel Webster, an Orlando Republican who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

The spending plan will have a dramatic effect in downtown Tampa, where it allows for the complete overhaul of I-275 from the intersection of I-4 to the Howard Frankland Bridge. That work is to begin late in the decade.

Within 20 years, the state plan calls for a limited access expressway allowing motorists from points east to bypass most downtown traffic.

"That whole area down there, where there's a lot of bobbing and weaving, it just takes the whole area and kind of straightens it out," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Dick Kane.

The plan also sets aside $19.1-million to plan and design a way to ease congestion where the Gandy Bridge unloads into Tampa. The plan also would spend $100-million on unspecified upgrades to U.S. 19 in Pinellas.

A Senate plan to create a county funds matching program that would encourage local road improvements is also included in the plan.

The legislative plan also funds dozens of "fast-track projects" designed to encourage economic development by improving roads around seaports, airports and rail stations. Tampa Bay would get money for several such projects, including $507,000 to improve cargo roads around Tampa International Airport, $150,000 to design a monorail at Clearwater Beach and $900,000 toward studying a rail system linking St. Petersburg and Cape Canaveral.

As for Gandy Boulevard, the Tampa Bay DOT chief is considering whether to build an elevated highway down the middle of Gandy Boulevard to connect with the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway or build a bypass loop that would run south through several neighborhoods.

No construction money is provided for either alternative in the plan lawmakers are endorsing, but their plan does provide $100-million to buy land.

The $100-million for U.S. 19 could go toward overpasses that reroute traffic and eliminate stoplights, officials said, but the amount likely would pay for only about two such projects.

Sen. Jim Sebesta of St. Petersburg said he plans to work for more area money next year to create a 12-mile stretch of U.S. 19 free of traffic signals from Curlew Road to Gandy Boulevard.

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