Traffic issues have become a common occurrence around parts of Hillsborough County. Greg Slater, CEO and director of the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA), is fully aware of this, as the view from his office on Twiggs Street in downtown Tampa overlooks the backup of cars that represents the Selmon Expressway’s elevated express-lanes exit ramp during morning commutes east from Brandon.
Slater joined THEA last February and brings with him over 20 years of experience in public service, most recently as secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, and sees first-hand where there are still opportunities to improve the expressway.
One of Slater’s goals is to create a balance of usage between the upper and lower lanes as well as reduce congestion for morning westbound commuters. A major component will be the installation of two new ‘slip’ ramps on the Selmon that are now under construction, one near I-75 with the second near the I-4 connector. Additionally, alternative routes will be open near the Twiggs Street off-ramp at Nebraska Avenue, making for easier access through downtown. Slater is also working closely with the Florida Department of Transportation in solving the backup at I-4, although that project is not under THEA authority.
Slip ramps are on and off-ramps between the Selmon Expressway’s lower local lanes and upper reversible express lanes (REL). The new East Selmon slip ramps will allow drivers westbound to enter the upper-level REL near I-75, and then exit near IKEA. The addition of the ramps will reduce morning congestion on the westbound Selmon Expressway near I-75, along with helping to avoid congestion near the I-4 connector and reduce backup at the Twiggs Street exit ramp. Slater expects the ramps to be operational by the end of the summer.
A second enhancement being made to the Selmon is an additional travel lane from 22nd Street near Ybor City to Brandon Parkway, which will be completed over two or three phases.
Traffic on the Selmon is on the rise, “operating at 19 percent over prepandemic levels and seeing increased usage in the middle of the day, … and for the third time this year exceeding daily records, with Friday, February 10 setting an all-time high.” Slater is well aware that using the expressway represents both a choice and an expense, and he wants drivers to know THEA is constantly working towards improving its services to maximize their dollars. One hundred percent of the revenues collected in tolls are reinvested back into the community.
The good news for local commuters is THEA is a state, not county, agency so county funding does not factor into THEA improvements, with all upcoming and current projects funded 100 percent through THEA’s toll and bond revenues.
When asked of future THEA plans, Slater reminded me, “When the Selmon was initially expanded (in the late 80s), Brandon was the population center, and the reason why it was built … to serve the growing community. Three areas that have been discussed are north towards Pasco, west between Tampa and St. Pete and south to Riverview, Apollo Beach, Southern Hillsborough. … Due to the recent growth, THEA is addressing plans meant for 2040 today.”
And when asked about the southern option, Slater would only go as far as to say there was “an ‘idea’ which included an elevated extension running south along U.S. 301 from the existing 301 exit south to the Big Bend area, … very similar to what was built over Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.”
This would imply one lane in either direction with no additional exits for a total length of around 10 miles. No timetable was mentioned, but Slater followed up by saying community support and involvement for this project would be essential in moving the idea forward, especially from local businesses.
For more information, Sue Chrzan, THEA’s director of communications and public affairs, can be reached at www.tampa-xway.com. THEA is located at 1104 E. Twiggs St. in Tampa. Call THEA at 813-272-6740.