Opinion Pieces

Celebrate the opening of Tampa’s missing link

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Tampa, January 3, 2014 | comments
The Tampa Bay area is moving now. That’s right — the Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector will open soon to the delight of commuters, port businesses and Ybor City enthusiasts. The massive infrastructure project failed to get off the ground until the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave the project new life.
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By U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor published in The Tampa Tribune on Jan. 3, 2014

The Tampa Bay area is moving now. That’s right — the Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector will open soon to the delight of commuters, port businesses and Ybor City enthusiasts. The massive infrastructure project failed to get off the ground until the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave the project new life.

The area around the high-traffic Port of Tampa is a transportation nightmare. The port, Selmon Expressway and I-4 were never linked together. Goods and semitrailers exiting the port were forced into a congested corridor through historic Ybor City. Port businesses and economic development organizations pressed for change, but progress was slow. As a county commissioner and member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, from 2002-06, I saw the project just remain on the wish list.

By late 2008, America was in the midst of the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, and many of our neighbors were losing their jobs. In response, Congress passed a historic law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that cushioned the harsh impact of the Great Recession. The Recovery Act provided a jump-start to the economy, created and saved millions of jobs, and addressed long-neglected challenges in communities across America, including the I-4 Connector.

The Recovery Act and its “economic stimulus” became a political football and was criticized by the tea party. Nevertheless, the Recovery Act boosted the economy when we needed it and provided tremendous investments in the Tampa Bay area: MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa International Airport, downtown redevelopment with Tampa Encore, USF, the Moffitt Cancer Center, U.S. 19, and our public schools.

The largest Recovery Act investment in the Tampa Bay area was dedicated to finally fixing the long-neglected Crosstown Connector.

We needed those jobs here. We needed to finally address this missing link. We needed to provide a stronger foundation for economic growth in this community. Local leaders, port businesses, Tampa Bay Partnership and Expressway Authority were united in their support for the missing link. Because they were united, they made my job in securing the Recovery Act dollars an effective sell to the Obama administration.

The Recovery Act provided $105 million of the $223 million federal contribution. When I took former Federal Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on a tour last year, he said, “This project is the envy of the rest of the country.”

It remains one of the largest transportation investments from the Recovery Act nationwide.

The connector will provide important new travel connections, a safer and more vibrant Ybor historic district and a stronger foundation for jobs and economic growth at the Port of Tampa and local small businesses.

As we cut the connector ribbon and celebrate the new year, we can leave the struggling economy behind us and together stay on track to become a more prosperous community. Happy New Year!

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