Tampa's Veterans Expressway being part widened and tolls converted to all-electronic
By Peter Samuel
The Veterans Expressway FL589, a major highway going north from the west of Tampa is having a 7 mile, 11km stretch widened from mostly 2x2 lanes up to 2x4 lanes and getting all-electronic toll (AET) collection. It is a $236m project - estimated construction cost $202m, design $20m, right of way $14m.
Bids will be sought May for a contract in the summer with work to start in the fall. Various segments of the modernized and enlarged tollroad are due to open from 2013 through 2015.
The untolled southern three miles, 5km of the Veterans Expressway is part of a complex of interchanges including a huge 4 level stack built by FDOT 2002-05 on the west side of Tampa International Airport. Here the eternal Expressway has at least 8 lanes already - the count is complicated by the many ramps and their entry and exit lanes.
Immediately north of Memorial Highway Exit 3 - interchanges numbered by nearest milepost or MP - for about a mile it is 2x3 lanes and in part a work-in-progress anyway with bridges having deck for extra lanes.
By Exit 4 Hillsborough Avenue FL580 at the northwest corner of the airport the Expressway has dropped another lane each side to 2x2 lanes.
This stretch from Exit 4 north has its pavement doubled to 2x4 lanes. Some 22 bridges have to be widened and three new ones built. The lane additions involve widening into the median reservation on established fill and widening outward. Most of the median is insufficient for the 2 extra lanes each direction.
New sound walls are planned in two neighborhoods.
The Veterans has ramp toll points at Hillsborough Avenue at MP4 and Waters Avenue MP6, Anderson Road mainline plaza MP6, ramps tolled at Whisky Blvd MP8 and Gunn Highway MP9.
Anderson Road mainline toll plaza of 17 stop-to-pay/roll-through toll lanes (9SB, 8NB) is reportedly the major current bottleneck. That will go to 2x4 AET lanes at a point beyond ramps.
Annual average daily traffic (AADT) is running at around 66.1k south of the Anderson toll point and 55.6k north of it.
Also seeing the end of cash toll collection in this project beyond the present widening are Veterans' 11 toll lane Sugarwood mainline toll plaza at MP11, and ramp tolls at Hutchison Rd MP12.
Ramp tolls are presently an electronic toll lane and a coin machine lane.
Public clamor for AET
A spokesman says there's strong public demand for highway-speed tolling. Christa Deason is quoted: "That's one of the things we hear over and over again from our customers, that they want the electronic, open-road tolling."
Just over 75% of transactions are presently by transponder.
Tampa area motorists have had all-electronic tolling (AET) on the east-west Selmon expressway operated by THEA, the county toll authority. And immediately north of the Veterans on the contiguous FDOT Suncoast Parkway they have a mix of open road toll (ORT) lanes and cash at three mainline toll plazas. The Suncoast 42 miles, 68km long, which opened in 2001 at a cost of $510m was the first tollroad in Florida to have ORT.
The Suncoast Parkway ORT is a unique configuration with a pair of ORT lanes on the outside in what they call high speed bypass lanes, and stop-to-pay cash in the center, allowing some lanes to be reversed. Almost everywhere else ORT being high speed has been placed in the left side lanes in the middle, with cash on the outside.
The Veterans Expressway which opened in 1994 has recently been doing around 50m toll transactions (140k/day) and generating $33m in tolls while the Suncoast Parkway to its north takes 28m tolls/year (80k/day) and $21m in revenues.
This Veterans widening project was due to be built in 2010, but it was one of six major widening projects shelved by FDOT due to the severity of the recession. Traffic was down 5% 2009 on 2008. With signs of recovery in traffic and better revenues the Turnpike is reviving these projects.