New I-4 connector spurs growth plans in Ybor, but traffic persists

7:50 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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Tampa, FL -- The new I-4 connector that moves big trucks from the interstate directly to the Port of Tampa and Selmon Expressway has been open for a couple of days now, but you might not know it by seeing the amount of truck traffic still making its way through Tampa's historic Ybor City.

Old highway habits die hard, so the big rigs keep on rolling through the heart of Ybor, along 21st and 22nd Streets.

You can hear them rumble past Yanko Maceda's cigar shop, Tabanero Cigars, located half a block off 7th Avenue.

"When it happened, we thought we weren't going to see any more trucks. But it didn't work out like that," said Maceda.

Relief from the $428 million connector is on the way, say officials. But it'll take a little time.

"It's a great investment for the community," said Ybor's Chamber of Commerce president Tom Keating. 

Keating says plans are already in the works. Eventually, he says, they intend to push Ybor's main drag, 7th Avenue, east - all the way up toward 25th Street. It will bring wider, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and historic lanterns designed to spur both commercial and residential redevelopment.  

"It will literally heal the community from one end to the other, so Ybor will be one long historic district," said Keating.

In fact, the city of Tampa even announced Tuesday that it's gotten bids for two city-owned properties: an apartment complex on Ybor's north side, and a hotel development on the east end.

For now, however, trucks continue to use the streets.

Although there's no specific time table, eventually the state will repave this stretch of road and hand it back over to the city. Tampa, in turn, will impose restrictions to truck traffic.

That day can't come soon enough for George Guito, the general manager at Ybor's historic Columbia Restaurant. Guito remembers scenes like the one in 2001, when a truck slammed into the wall along 21st Street.

"It shook the building," he said.

The connector, he hopes will make scenes like that history, and perhaps bring back the quieter days of casual strolls and outside cafés even eastern Ybor were once famous for.

"You know, it's always enjoyable to walk down the streets and things like that. Hopefully it'll be better for everybody," says Guito.

For now, they believe word of mouth about the connector finally being open will lead to fewer trucks using these streets.

But eventually it won't be an option for the estimated 28,000 trucks - and their sometimes-dangerous cargo - that make their way through this area each year.

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