Nearly three years after the city launched a makeover of 22nd Street in East Tampa, the work is completed and a controversial roundabout — the project’s final segment — is open to traffic.
About 40 people, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, attended a ceremony Wednesday at which the roundabout, at the junction of 22nd and 21st streets, and 23rd Avenue, officially opened.
“This is progress. It will bring our neighborhoods closer together,” said Cynthia Few, president of College Hill Civic Association and Neighborhood Crime Watch. “This is a connection.”
The road work was on a stretch of 22nd that links Ybor City with East Tampa and includes the College Hill neighborhood and the Belmont Heights Estates complex. From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 21st Avenue, improvements included landscaping, irrigation, crosswalks, a 10-foot-wide multi-use trail on the west side, more sidewalks, bus bays and shelters, signs alerting motorists to share the road with bicyclists and, in some areas, bicycle lanes.
In past years the city has bought properties on and around 22nd with the idea of marketing them for investment and commercial development. The street’s upgrades were a step toward that goal.
The city, Florida Department of Transportation and local property tax revenues from the East Tampa special tax district paid for the approximately $5.6 million project. About $2.9 million of that amount came from local property taxes collected within the East Tampa special tax district bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limit.
Residents and business owners generally said they like what they see.
But the roundabout still has critics.
“This is very nice,” said longtime East Tampa resident Gwen Freeman, 61, of the overall look of 22nd. “But I don’t see the point of the roundabout. You have to be careful. It’s good if people will yield but if people don’t read the signs it’s a problem.”
Terry Robinson said the roundabout, with its flowers and centerpiece monument, is a bit too large. But, he said, “It kind of beautifies the street. It improves the area.”
Nearly a decade ago residents identified a makeover of 22nd as a priority, and a redesign later was approved by the Tampa City Council. But as construction neared, a debate about the roundabout and the cost of buying a house in its path split the community and nearly stalled the project.
Supporters say roundabouts slow traffic and reduce left-turns, a major cause of crashes. Others say they create confusion which leads to crashes.
Federal transportation data supports the view that roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections with stop signs and traffic signals. The data shows 35 percent fewer crashes; 90 percent fewer fatalities; 76 percent fewer injuries and improved pedestrian safety due to slower speeds.
“If you understand what a yield sign means, you can travel this with no problem,” said Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick.
Buckhorn recalled when the College Hill neighborhood struggled with crime and illegal drug deals. “We remember what the street used to look like... what the community looked like and it was wrong,” the mayor said. Now, Buckhorn said, “I see an East Tampa that is ready to rise again, where people are investing.”
A mini-strip mall at 22nd and 26th Avenue spruced up its storefronts during construction.
A new business, Ally Health Care, opened in a former doctor’s office about a year ago, next to the roundabout. Manager/owner Dennis Drummond said the community still has to overcome negative perceptions.
“I heard it was a pretty rough neighborhood,” Drummond said. “Now they have a street that looks more modern. It’s improving the area.”
Area business owners say the lengthy construction time was a hardship, though they like the results.
“At the end of the day it’s worth it, but should it have taken two and a half years?” said Chang Lee, owner of Fat Boy’s Beauty Supply. But, he added, “It just looks nicer. It’s one step at a time.”
Precious Williams, 23, pushed her nearly 2-year-old son, Rodney Johnson Jr., in a stroller on Tuesday morning. “People used to walk in the road,” she said. “It’s an improvement if everybody is safer.”