Clearwater, Fla. - Governor Rick Scott stopped by the Pinellas Gateway area today to announce the advancement...or...early funding...of a new toll connector linking the Bayside Bridge, US-19 and I-275.
The toll road will run north/south between the Bayside Bridge and 118th Ave. North and east/west along 118th to provide access to I-275. Once the US-19 corridor through Clearwater is completed, the connector, which is set for construction to begin in 2017, will help to connect the Sunshine Skyway and Palm Harbor with no traffic signals.
"It's going to get people through the community faster. It's going to help create more tourists which creates more jobs," said Governor Rick Scott.
But, perhaps the more interesting facet of this project is the access it provides to the Pinellas Gateway area where the "Greenlight Pinellas" plan includes a light rail stop. Granted, that initiative is not set for a vote until November, but F-DOT secretary Ananth Prasad does not deny that this connector would make the possibility for mass transit, even interbay lightrail transit, much easier for both north and south Pinellas commuters.
"We talked about the Howard Frankland Bridge and potentially building the foundation to make sure to have the ability for a future lightrail, so it's the overall transportation puzzle, and these are all pieces of it," said FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad.
The $330 million allotted for the Gateway Express Toll Road comes from the state's record breaking $8.8 billion dollar transportation budget in the next fiscal year. It is estimated to wrap construction in 2022, but Secretary Prasad says there will be incentives and penalties written into the contract in order to compel early completion.
Another goal of the connector is to provide a thoroughfare for commuters that separates them from Pinellas County tourists. The idea for a north/south connector of this kind was first developed by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce in 1999 and the cost to use the elevated toll has yet to be determined.
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