The Gandy Debacle – Episode 1 – Sprawl Overload


With all of the discussion about toll roads these days, it really shouldn’t be surprising that some projects that were previously frowned upon are getting a second look. While I generally dislike the increasing trend of toll road construction here in Florida, I also realize that toll roads aren’t going away. In this blog series – which comprises of four parts – I will be examining two projects (one a toll road, and the other a freeway) that are aimed at relieving congestion along one of Tampa Bay’s major thoroughfares – Gandy Blvd.

Gandy Blvd currently stretches from Bayshore Blvd in South Tampa to US 19 in Pinellas Park. From US 19, the roadway continues westward as Park Blvd and terminates in Indian Shores. The roadway (Gandy Blvd) was named after businessman and developer George Shepard Gandy, whose namesake is also on the bridge that he helped design and build during the early 1900s – with the original bridge opening in 1924. Since the 1920s, the South Tampa has seen a monumental suburban boom as Tampa grew outward from its downtown core. By the 1960s, nearly every open void in South Tampa was filled in with suburban style homes and businesses.

Today, Gandy Blvd is swamped with commercial businesses and some residential complexes, and unfortunately is seeing tons of rush hour congestion because of this and the route’s crucial link between the Gulf Coast Beaches and Downtown Tampa. The congestion along Gandy is now so bad that traffic sometimes backs up at key intersections during the midday on weekdays (such as WestShore Blvd and Manhattan Ave). Weekends have largely been spared, but if there is an incident on I-275, commuters will flock to the alternative thoroughfares to avoid the mess on the interstates.

Many plans have been brought up in the past to help relieve congestion along Gandy, but all up until now have fizzled out due in large part to community opposition. The first of these projects was the original South Crosstown Expressway, known today as the Selmon Expressway. The expressway’s original plans had the western terminus just shy of the Gandy Bridge on the Hillsborough side and then snaking down to an east-west CSX rail corridor and then northeastward up another rail line to Downtown Tampa. Heavy community opposition killed off these plans and that is why the expressway’s western end is at Gandy Blvd and Dale Mabry Hwy. Community opposition also played a role in the cancellation of several western extensions of the expressway that were brought upon between the 1980s and the late 2000s. Community opposition also helped kill plans for a cross-county expressway in Pinellas using the Gandy/Park Corridor.

I will be taking a closer look at the latest plan to elevate Gandy Blvd on the South Tampa side in my next installment. Then, I will take a look at the Gandy Bridge itself, followed by what is being done to Gandy on the Pinellas side. I hope that you will stay tuned for those posts.

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No relief in sight for clogged Gandy Blvd in Tampa

Let’s face it, Gandy Blvd in Tampa is just too clogged. Traffic routinely backs up for miles during rush hour, and despite plans for either a bypass expressway or an elevated structure being planned for the last two decades at least, nothing has materialized.

There is currently no funding available for construction, nor will there be funding available for at least another decade, unless Governor Scott throws in a Hail Mary at the last minute. Even then, studies would have to be updated, which alone could take up to five years. Then you have the ongoing rash of “Not in my backyard) opposition from area residents and business owners, who fear any expressway or elevated structure would cause excessive noise, plummeting property values, and dire loss of business traffic. YET, a WalMart SuperCenter was allowed to be built along the very same stretch of road in 2010 with very little community opposition. Now that’s just messed up.

So what can be done about this problem? Well, unless we have money, there really isn’t a lot that can be done. The past proposals for a bypass expressway are dead due to the need to acquire land that today has either been built up or has been otherwise purchased by private developers. And the elevated structure plan faces continual community opposition, as I just mentioned. Light rail would be nice, but that too costs money, and you’d have double the opposition…not just from area residents and business owners, but also from No Tax For Tracks and the rest if the Tea Party anti-transit folks.

Unless as I mentioned, Governor Scott throws in a last minute Hail Mary, don’t expect anything significant to happen with the Tampa stretch of Gandy for at least another 10 years…