When the Gateway project is complete, the expressway will provide a direct connection from I-275 to U.S. 19 and from I-275 to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and the Bayside Bridge.
Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
Debbie Hunt, director of Transportation Development for Florida Department of Transportation, updates Pinellas County Commissioners during a July 29 work session about ongoing plans for construction of the Gateway Express project.
Screenshots by SUZETTE PORTER
Noah Lagos, director of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, updates commissioners about issues with the airport during a July 29 work session about ongoing plans for construction of the Gateway Express project.
CLEARWATER – The Gateway Express should improve travel time in Pinellas County, saving commuters as much as nine to 13 minutes.
Debbie Hunt, director of Transportation Development for Florida Department of Transportation, updated Pinellas County Commissioners during a July 29 work session about ongoing plans for construction of the Gateway Express project. When complete, the expressway will provide a direct connection from I-275 to U.S. 19 and from I-275 to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and the Bayside Bridge.
Hunt described it as a “catalyst project” for the future of the region.
“It takes all the signals out of the commute,” she said.
She said the saving in travel time was “huge.”
Gov. Rick Scott announced in February that FDOT would provide $131 million of the Gateway Express project. When complete, motorists will be able to make the new connections using an elevated tolled expressway. Thanks to the extra state money, the Gateway Express will open 20 years earlier than originally planned.
Hunt said charging a toll on the expressway would allow the state to fund construction without using bonds. Toll revenue will pay for operation and maintenance of the road. Hunt estimates that the toll will be 75 cents – at least in the beginning. She added that toll-free options would still be available.
The Gateway Express will “improve mobility in the region and help with congestion,” Hunt said.
It also will tie into other projects in the area.
FDOT is working with county staff and well as Noah Lagos, director of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, and those working on the Greenlight Pinellas plan. PSTA also wants to build a maintenance facility in the Gateway area and potentially a train station.
The Gateway Express will provide better access to the airport and require moving the traffic signal. The airport will still have two access points, Hunt said.
FDOT and airport officials are currently working on plans to accommodate changes needed to the ponds and potential runway changes.
“FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is very involved to make sure there are no conflicts,” Hunt said. “We hope to get FAA response this week.”
The project could require intermittent closures of the main runway for up to six weeks. Hunt was quick to point out that the runway would not be closed for six weeks.
“Overall, it would be a total of six weeks, not six weeks at one time,” she said.
She said a secondary runway would be available.
Lagos disputed that the main runway would be closed during construction.
“There is no closure of the main runway during this project,” he said.
He said the airport had agreed to temporary closures to the secondary runway and nighttime closures totaling up to six weeks in time.
He said one of the airport’s runways, 927, was scheduled to be closed in 2019, because the FAA no longer wants to pay for its maintenance and the airport can’t afford it.
“To make this project work, we must close 927,” he said.
He said it was FDOT’s responsibility to coordinate with the FAA on the proposed alignment of the roadway and airspace. He said FAA would “offer an opinion” that there no hazards, there are possible hazards or there are hazards.
“We must wait for FAA’s opinion,” he said.
He said the roadway project also could affect plans for a future runway expansion.
“We’re still working on issues,” Lagos said.
Issues include the ponds, runways and parking.
He said the history of the airport’s acquisition, which was part of a Surplus Property Act, also must be considered.
“There are strings attached,” he said.
Another concern is stormwater pipes under the road at 118th Avenue. Discussions include having the contractor reline all those pipes as part of the project.
David Scott, director of the department of environment and infrastructure, said his staff was looking to see what other utilities infrastructure might be in the area.
“We don’t want to have to dig up that area in the future,” he said.
Funding includes federal, state and Penny for Pinellas funds. Construction on the project, estimated to cost about $454 million, is scheduled to start in early 2017. Officials estimate that construction will take five years. Public hearings on the project are expected to begin in 2015. Penny for Pinellas will fund about $60 million of the project.
Hunt said the project would help with traffic congestion, but it wouldn’t solve the problem.
“Even with planned improvements and light rail, congestion will shift and balance,” she said. “It will take all the improvements to make traffic flow.”
“This is part of a multi-modal system,” Commissioner Ken Welch said.
He said working together all the projects would help with congestion.
“This is a great project,” he added.
“We’re working very hard together,” Scott said. “Everything is beginning to come together well.”