Sunday, February 15, 2009

Elevate Gandy Yes, But Not Two Lanes

In Sunday’s St. Petersburg Times there was an editorial on building an elevated section of Gandy Blvd. from the southern terminus of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway to the east end of the Gandy Bridge. The plan calls for two elevated lanes, one eastbound and one westbound.

In my own opinion, we need a better route between the east end of the Gandy Bridge and the south end of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway by building an elevated section in the space where there is going to be a median for Gandy Blvd (the widening project that is taking place). However, it needs to be a minimum of four lanes, not the two lanes as planned. Why?

1. The majority of Gandy Blvd. traffic from the east end of the Gandy Bridge to the south end of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is not local traffic. Instead, it is passing through traffic coming to or from St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Times is right on that. Every time when I take an occasional trip through this section of Gandy Blvd. that road is heavily used.

2. An elevated four-lane Gandy connector would provide an alternative to Interstate 275 and the Howard Frankland Bridge and at the same time would give commuters living in St. Petersburg and working in Tampa and vice versa an alternative route. Besides, those who live in St. Petersburg and want to get to Interstate 4 and the Orlando area attractions can also use this route (with a connection to Interstate 4 via Interstate 75 and the Selmon Crosstown Expressway) without having to fight traffic on Interstate 275 through Downtown Tampa, especially during the rush hour on weekdays.

3. It would provide an essential hurricane evacuation route for those St. Petersburg residents (as well as the beaches of southern Pinellas County) that needs to evacuate as a hurricane approaches. Remember when Hurricane Charley tried to pay the St. Petersburg area a visit in August 2004 and all the routes leading out of Pinellas County were next to gridlock? With an elevated four-lane Gandy connector, in the event of a hurricane evacuation all four lanes would be converted to eastbound use, which would extend to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

4. A two-lane Gandy connector would create nothing but gridlock during the morning and evening rush hours, as you would have only one lane going eastbound and one lane going westbound. A four lane Gandy connector with a center concrete divider similar to the concrete dividers on Interstate 275 would do the trick.

While we’re on the subject of Gandy Blvd. and the Gandy Bridge, here are more suggested improvements to bring another limited access highway between St. Petersburg and Tampa. A few of these suggestions have been on the shelves for many years; now is the time to consider dusting off the plans.

Gandy Bridge:

1. Tear down the 1956 westbound span, which used to be the Friendship Trail until the bridge had to be closed in its entirety due to the span being structurally deficient. Build a new westbound span (identical to the westbound span that was constructed in 1999) in the same location.

2. The present 1999 westbound span would become the eastbound span.

3. The older 1975 eastbound span could be put to use as the replacement Friendship Trail Bridge. This would appease motorists as well as pedestrians and bicyclists alike. Besides, the 1975 span is in better shape than the 1956 span.

Gandy Blvd. from the west end of the Gandy Bridge to Interstate 275’s Exit 28:

1. Convert the existing highway into a limited access highway much like what we are seeing now on US 19 in Pinellas County. Interchanges would be built at Brighton Bay Blvd NE (at the entrance to Derby Lane), 4 St N and Roosevelt Blvd., Martin Luther King St N and 16 St N. Access to businesses along Gandy Blvd. such as WTSP-TV (10 Connects) would be maintained by way of frontage roads.

2. Construct a recreation area on the south side of Gandy Blvd. as well as a recreational multi-purpose trail to connect the replacement Friendship Trail Bridge. This would retain the recreational character of the area south of Gandy Blvd. on the St. Petersburg approach to the Gandy Bridge, popularly called Gandy Beach.

3. Just west of Interstate 275, continue the limited access highway to US 19 where there is an interchange that was built in 1977. This is the interchange in Pinellas Park where Gandy Blvd. becomes Park Blvd. Construct an interchange at Grand Blvd. where access is provided into the Gateway Industrial Park as well as a frontage road.

4. As for the Interstate 275 interchange at Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28), I have a page on a suggested Exit 28 makeover over at which you can access by clicking on this link. I’ll let that page speak for itself.

In my opinion, the elevated Gandy connector from the east end of the Gandy Bridge to the south end of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is a great idea which would benefit St. Petersburg residents. However, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority should consider a four lane elevated flyover – which would be compatible with the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and Gandy Blvd., both which are already four lanes – as a viable solution rather than a two lane solution.