By Aubrey Whelan, Times Staff Writer

In Print: Friday, August 26, 2011

St. Pete Times


DOWNTOWN — The plan to close the dilapidated Platt Street Bridge for much-needed repairs has been on the table for months now, county officials say.

But time hasn’t eased the frustration residents of Davis Islands and Harbour Island feel over the project that will eliminate a major link to and from downtown for 105 days, some time in early October.

They say the city hasn’t provided enough options for diverting traffic away from the bridge, contending that the closing will create a near-constant gridlock in and around the Platt Street area.

“Hopefully this (traffic plan) is a work in progress,” Davis Islands resident Joe Fontana said at an open house this week hosted by County Commissioner Sandy Murman. “But this is the same as nine months ago. That’s extremely inefficient.”

One resident said the traffic plan made her feel “claustrophobic,” while others expressed concerns about access for emergency vehicles in the area. They’re also worried that cars leaving from Tampa General Hospital on Davis Islands and St. John’s Episcopal Church School in Hyde Park — which send employees and students home around the same time — will further clog the area.

City transportation officials say the plan is a tentative one and are still looking for suggestions from residents as the project draws closer to its start date.

City transportation manager Jean Dorzback said while the traffic situation in and around Platt Street isn’t ideal, the city will “deal with it as best as we can.”

In part, the current plan will divert neighborhood traffic crossing the Hillsborough River onto Kennedy Boulevard and Franklin Street. Other alternatives will detour drivers onto Verne Street and Plant Avenue, which will soon allow three lanes of traffic through.

Commuters will be encouraged to take the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway across town to avoid Bayshore Boulevard. The Tampa Police Department will station officers at key intersections to direct traffic during the first few days of the bridge closure, and the city plans to post 30 electronic message boards around the area to warn drivers.

The county, which owns the bridge and is overseeing the $13.8 million project, is offering monetary incentives to its contractors to finish the job on time — $10,000 per day if the bridge is completed up to 20 days in advance and $10,000 penalties for every day past the 105-day completion window. The project is part of ongoing repairs to the bridge that began in January and have caused lane closures along the way.

But no matter what, officials say, residents will have to deal with occasionally frustrating traffic.

“The first few days are going to be awful,” said Martin Stone, the planning director of the state Expressway Authority. He was at Monday’s open house, handing out free SunPasses to help residents prepare for the months to come.

Despite all their planning, officials say they still expect some confusion in October.

“We’ve been promoting this for months now,” said Shannon Edge, the head of the city’s neighborhood and community relations office. “People aren’t going to realize it’s actually closed until the day of.”

Aubrey Whelan can be reached at (813) 226-3446 or

City of Tampa wants Jobs Program

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Times article on the job creation program:

Tampa council member wants city version of county jobs program

By Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer

In Print: Sunday, May 22, 2011


TAMPA — Now that Hillsborough County has launched a program to help small businesses that create jobs, new Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione wonders: Why not us?

“Our smaller businesses do need the help,” said Montelione, whose private-sector experience includes working with her fiance’s three-person construction firm. “The challenge is finding the funds.”

Council members are expected to discuss the idea at a workshop on Thursday, though Montelione already has brought it up with members of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration. City officials need to look at the idea in more detail before deciding whether to add it to Buckhorn’s economic development agenda, Tampa economic development administrator Mark Huey said..

“The city certainly could do a program like that,” Huey said. “It’s really a matter of resource priority and would that be the best thing for us to do at this time, given the economic development challenges and opportunities that we have.”

Hillsborough County started its Small Business Job Creation Program this spring as commissioners discussed a way to exempt some property taxes for businesses that expand or move to the county. (Tampa has a similar property tax exemption program, approved by voters in March, in the works.)

Along with the property tax breaks, Commissioner Sandy Murman was interested in giving incentives to the smallest businesses that might be on the verge of adding employees.

“With unemployment hovering around 11, 12 percent, there’s obviously a great need for jobs in our community,” said Gene Gray, the county’s director of economic development.

Miami-Dade has a similar program, but there’s nothing else like Hillsborough’s program in the Tampa Bay area, Gray said.

Hillsborough’s program pays companies with 10 or fewer workers partial wage reimbursements for adding up to three more employees.

To receive the reimbursement, the businesses must keep the new employees for at least three months. At the end of that time, the companies can get half of what they paid their new hires, up to $3,900 per worker.

To qualify, the companies must be based in the county, must have been in business for at least two years and must agree to participate in county programs designed to foster the growth and health of small businesses. Their new employees also must be county residents.

To pay for the program, Hills­borough officials identified $500,000 that had been set aside in a pool for industry promotion.

As of mid May, 26 businesses had submitted applications for 59 new employees. Gray said the program has the funds to provide partial reimbursement for about 200 employees.

Along with the jobs program, Montelione said, her priorities include helping save the city money by getting city-owned facilities to switch over to energy-efficient technology.

“We have to bring down costs,” and being more energy-efficient is one way to do that, she said. “It used to be, ‘Oh, you’re green. You’re sustainable. You’re a tree hugger.’ No, it’s about saving money.”

As a start, Montelione said she was pleased to see the city install a motion-sensitive control for her office lights. The bad news: It doesn’t turn off the lights for half an hour.

“I don’t need my office lit for half an hour after I’ve left it,” she said. “Ten minutes is probably even too long.”

As for the jobs program, “It’s no surprise that funding is very tight around here,” Montelione said, “so I don’t know how we can make it work, but if we can find a way …”


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