Soon enough, one of the most widely known sporting events will take place once again: Tampa is set to host Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 1.
Hotel lodging will be booked, Tampa’s tourist attractions will be flooded and traffic around Tampa International Airport (TIA) will likely be stop and go.
There is a major barrier compounding this potential traffic jam, however — the major construction project sprawling across State Road 60 and part of the Veterans Expressway. It’s the highway that most tourists — and city officials expect about 100,000 of them — will take at one point or another during their stays.
Though the changes are geared toward making the commute easier for locals, making these modifications while Tampa Bay readies itself for — not to mention during — the Super Bowl seems like poor timing.
Construction on State Road 60 toward TIA began in summer 2005. The project — titled the Tampa Airport Interchanges Project — aims to improve traffic flow from Interstate 275 to the Courtney Campbell Causeway by separating local and express traffic.
With the project scheduled for completion in spring 2010, this leaves a massive construction site at TIA’s exit and entrance. Tourists arriving and having to drive their rental cars from the airport will be abruptly greeted by twists and turns and various blocked off lanes. In the midst of these modifications, tourists are more prone to the confusion that usually comes with driving in an unfamiliar setting, which could result in a safety hazard.
This inconvenience has already impacted local residents — highway exits and the number of highway lanes have changed at random, turning a familiar morning commute into a labyrinth of lanes.
Spokespersons for Gasparilla have announced that they have set back the date for the infamous pirate fest in an attempt to alleviate worries of traffic congestion that could result from two popular events occurring at the same time. Even with the relief of one less tourist-attracting event during the time period, however, congetion and safety are still valid concerns.
Tampa found out about hosting the Super Bowl in May 2005, and construction started that summer. Either this project is grossly beyond its allotted time of completion, or Tampa officials weren’t thinking when they decided to start tearing up the highways.
Tampa has a responsibility to make sure the tourists who visit for the Super Bowl have an enjoyable and safe time. If not, Tampa jeopardizes its status as a regular Super Bowl host, having hosted the event three times. With the Super Bowl bringing an estimated $300 million to the area, Tampa and its business owners have plenty to lose if this tourism rush is not handled correctly.
Though it is unlikely that physical construction will be done by Feb. 1, the FDOT and Flatiron Constructors — the company managing the Tampa Airport Interchanges Project — should postpone construction until well after the Super Bowl.
This way, motorists could expect the same disheveled landscape day after day, instead of perpetually scanning the road signs for new detours, which should minimize drivers’ confusion and maximize their safety.
Rebekah Rosado is a junior double majoring in sociology and mass communications.