Phase One of a two-phase project to transform the entire stretch of Gandy Boulevard from just east of Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg to just west of U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park began in January 2014.
Phase One of a two-phase project to transform the entire stretch of Gandy Boulevard from just east of Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg to just west of U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park began in January 2014. Designed to improve traffic flow along one of Pinellas County’s busiest roads, the design-build project involves transforming the existing roadway into an elevated six-lane facility (three in each direction) between I-275 and MLK Jr. Street, and four lanes (two in each direction) from MLK Jr. Street to east of Fourth Street.
After being tabled for decades due to costs, the project was suddenly fast-tracked when the Florida Department of Transportation realized the heavily travelled Gandy Boulevard corridor is a major evacuation route for Pinellas County residents in the event of a hurricane. FDOT estimates 46,000 vehicles use this 2-mi. stretch of road each day, and the stop-and-go traffic demonstrates the need to relieve congestion along the east-west corridor.
Financed by federal and state funding to the tune of $83 million, this phase focuses on the section from Fourth to Interstate 275. When work is completed, in addition to the elevated roadway, overpasses will be built at Fourth, Roosevelt Boulevard, King and 94th Avenue, with a frontage road system parallel to the main roadway. Other features will include pedestrian and bicycle routes along the corridor, lighting, stormwater facilities, signalization, landscaping and various advanced communications technologies as part of an “intelligent transportation system.” Sidewalks also will be built so drivers and cyclists can safely pass through the area, and ponds will be dug to provide for run-off.
The general contractor is a joint venture between Miami-based Condotte America and de Moya.
Work began in January 2014 with tree clearing and utility relocation along the median. “That will continue for a while,” said Marty Sanchez, senior project engineer of Genesis CEI/consultant of the Florida Department of Transportation
Sanchez said coordination of utility relocation has been a challenge.
After extensive earth moving, Sanchez said foundation recently began.
“There’s a lot of equipment involved: cranes, loaders, track hoes — a lot of dirt-moving equipment.”
Crews are currently working in the existing wide median, Sanchez said, but as work progresses, intermittent lane closures will be necessary along Gandy, King, Roosevelt and Fourth at night.
For lane closures during peak hours, three lanes in each direction will be open between I-275 and King and two lanes in each direction from King to east of Fourth Street. Temporary detours are coming, Sanchez advises, especially when crews begin working overhead. Most detours and lane closures, however, will occur during night and weekend hours.
As part of FDOT’s outreach, they hosted a construction open house this summer to present more information about the project to the public.
Although there have been no issues with Phase One, not all of the public is on board with Phase Two of the 12.6-mi. Gandy Freeway project intended to provide faster access to and from gulf beaches. According to the Tampa Bay Times, business owners and public officials became angry about a state proposal to raise an intersection on Gandy Boulevard because they believed it would negatively impact business.
The second phase, a 1.6-mi. stretch west from I-275 to the end of the Gandy overpass over U.S. 19, has not been funded, but is estimated to cost $49.6 million. Construction is not scheduled to begin until 2021. Included in this segment is the Gandy-Grand intersection.
FDOT had proposed replacing a ground-level intersection at Gandy Boulevard and Grand Avenue with an elevated interchange. This intersection is one of the main entrances to the Gateway Business Centre, which has been heavily developed in recent years, with new apartments and businesses, particularly on the Pinellas Park side.
Under the original proposal, drivers heading west would go up the overpass at Grand, come down to ground level and then go back up the existing overpass that crosses U.S. 19 — a kind of roller coaster effect.
Locals feared a repeat of what happened to a once-thriving shopping center at nearby U.S. 19 and 110th Avenue N, when several businesses closed because a new elevated interchange made it too difficult for customers to access them. Other concerns included losing tax revenue and safety due to expectations of vehicles merging and traveling at a higher rate of speed. FDOT cancelled plans for the elevated interchange; the intersection will remain at grade.
The expected completion date for phase one is spring 2017. Sanchez said work is on schedule and proceeding without issue, unhindered by either weather or environmental impact issues.
“It’s not cookie-cutter, but it’s nothing the DOT hasn’t done before,” Sanchez said.