Commuters driving between Tampa, Fla., and nearby Brandon have a reason to celebrate. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) has just opened a new, 10-mile commuter bridge and elevated roadway, with three reversible lanes and two shoulders linking the two destinations. The Reversible Elevated Lanes (REL) project, built in the median of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway, will enable drivers to make the rush-hour journey between Tampa and Brandon in approximately 10 minutes.
Florida's Turnpike Enterprise provided the design management for the Open Road Tolling (OTR) gantries, as well as the ORT equipment on the gantries. The Turnpike Enterprise researched and invested in the latest ORT technology for the REL project.
"Customers with SunPass transponders now have access to non-stop routes during peak travel periods, so they'll save time and fuel while bypassing congestion on the way to and from work," said Evelio Suarez, director of operations at the Florida Turnpike Enterprise. "The project also eases congestion on the existing Selmon Expressway for cars and trucks using local exits by moving a significant portion of the downtown commuter traffic to the elevated lanes."
The three reversible toll lanes run from West Brandon near the Westfield Shopping Town Mall to a new Downtown Tampa Gateway exit and entrance at Meridian Avenue near the Union Station. Westbound-only lanes to Tampa were opened on July 18, and the eastbound-only lanes to Brandon opened in late August. The initial hours of operation are westbound from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., and eastbound from 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. The design of the lanes will permit the central portion of the project to be closed during the middle of the day when traffic volumes are reduced, allowing the east and west ends to operate independently.
During off hours, the roadway will be open to traffic, with the exception of mid-day traffic 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., where the central portion of the roadway will be closed, allowing westbound traffic to enter the roadway west of Highway 301, with eastbound traffic entering the roadway west of Highway 301.
City of Tampa traffic managers operate a protection system of warning gates and resistance barriers at entrance ramps that safely control the direction of traffic flow. Located in THEA's new Transportation Management Center, this system does not allow managers to change the direction of flow until it has been verified that all opposing traffic is off the roadway. After an initial operating period, the Expressway Authority and city of Tampa traffic managers will evaluate the express lanes to determine the permanent operating hours.
Payment in ORT lanes --$1 per vehicle in each direction--is managed through a SunPass transponder mounted on the vehicle; cash is not accepted. Trucks are not permitted on the REL.
A new pay-by-plate program to allow infrequent customers (such as rental-car users and out-of-area drivers) who do not have a SunPass transponder will go into effect this year. The program entails enrollment in a Pay-By-Plate account with a slightly higher toll than the SunPass transponder based toll accounts. These infrequent customers would register their license plates, and the toll would be administered by associating a captured image of the plate against an account.
"The Turnpike Enterprise is proud to participate in the first triple reversible tolling lanes in North America," Suarez said. "We will support THEA, our sister agency, in any way we can to preserve and expand this commuter corridor as transportation needs evolve in the future."