By Matt Wiley

The New Tampa Gateway Bridge is nearly complete and getting ready to connect parts of New Tampa located north and west of I-75 to Tampa Palms, eliminating the need to traverse busy Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. and helping to lighten some of our area’s sluggish congestion.

But, what if that same road stretched all the way to I-275?

The question has lingered in the air since the early 1990s, but when the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority officially shot down the plan for the New Tampa East-West Connector Road (E-W Rd.). In 2008, it appeared the plan to connect the southwest end of the bridge from Commerce Park Blvd. to I-275 was dead.

Since then, some of the factors that caused the 2008 deal to fall through have changed, such as construction costs. These changes could eventually bring the project back into the spotlight and possibly spark talks between City of Tampa officials about taking another look at building it.

“It’s still on the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) long-range transportation plan,” says City of Tampa Transportation Manager Jean Duncan (formerly Dorzback), P.E. “So, yes, it’s still on the radar, but it’s simply not an active city project at this time.”

According to the MPO’s 2025 Long Range Transportation Plan, the estimated cost of the E-W Rd., which would be a four-lane divided toll way, was nearly $66 million, although the plan was last revised in 2007 when construction costs were much higher.

Duncan says that with the current Gateway Bridge project and the planned expansion of Cross Creek Blvd. to four lanes from Cory Lake Isles to Morris Bridge Rd., all of the city’s impact fees in our area, which would be used to help fund the E-W Rd., are tied up. Cross Creek Blvd. drivers can breathe a sigh of relief—that widening project isn’t scheduled to begin until late 2013.

Previously, under former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, the E-Wt Rd. was being approached as a “P3,” or private-public partnership, in which the city would partner with a private contracting firm to build the roadway.

“The city owns the right-of-way for the East-West Road corridor, which would connect from Commerce Park Blvd. to I-275,” Duncan explains. “However, the type of roadway that this would function as is not a typical city-type road. Due to construction costs at the time, the only way to pay for the road would have been through a partnership with the Hillsborough County Expressway Authority or through a private firm that would come in and build the road.”

Due to wetlands across the corridor, several areas, if not all, of the road would have to be raised structures, increasing construction costs.

Duncan explains that when the project was last considered, besides a lack of funding, another part of the reason it fell apart was due to the time it was taking to get federal approval for the interchange at I-275. The private firm that was in talks to construct the road couldn’t wait any longer.

“It was one of those ‘perfect storm’ situations,” Duncan says. “It came down to timelines with several government agencies and private entities. Banks want a quick answer; but federal agencies can take a long time for approval.”

So, for now, the only construction-related traffic nightmares that New Tampa drivers have to worry about are still the ongoing widening of BBD, a Hillsborough County and FDOT project that won’t be totally finished until 2015. However, the stretch between Pebble Creek Blvd. to I-75 is set for a December completion. As previously reported in the New Tampa Neighborhood News, the Gateway Bridge is being timed to open with widened Commerce Park Blvd. and BBD, once widening is completed south of the interstate to Palm Springs Blvd., sometime around April.

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