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Saturday, Aug 30, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Still planning Gandy after all these years

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You have to give it to the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. They don’t give up. For more than a decade the commission and the Florida Department of Transportation have been pushing for an elevated toll road that would run above Gandy Boulevard between Dale Mabry Highway west to the Gandy Bridge.

For roughly the same amount of time, residents and small business owners along the strip have said no, forget about it, go away.

Of course, a lot of those people don’t understand progress. They are probably the same ones who complained a few years ago when Gandy was torn up for more than a year when they put that median strip in and their businesses were hurt. My mechanic finally chucked it all, closed up and went fishing.

So we were among the 9,000-plus families who received a brochure in the mail asking us to complete a survey that was headlined, “Does This Look Like A Good Idea?’’ The brochure included pictures of parents with kids in strollers and senior citizens, all strolling down the quiet sidewalks of a future Gandy Boulevard, underneath the flower-covered pillars holding up the elevated highway.

The brochure said I could take the survey online or by texting or that I could even call Lisa down at the Planning Commission.

Naturally it seemed easier to just give Lisa a call and not only did she pick up the phone, she claimed to be a real person and not a computer-generated voice. Lisa turned out to be really nice, but she did say she was a bit overwhelmed since she was the only real person around and wondered if I might text in my answers or give them online.

There were only four questions, such as would the connector be a help in a hurricane evacuation.

Right. I still remember the last time they evacuated Pinellas.

In fact — holy mackerel! — it was Labor Day weekend back in 1985 and Hurricane Elena was sitting out there in the Gulf and expected to come ashore. It never did, but I believe it was sometime late at night when they decided to evacuate Pinellas and thousands of cars came streaming across the Gandy Bridge to the Bayshore in Tampa where it dead-ended and where the streets were already flooded from the incoming tide.

It was after midnight and I had gone out to witness the chaos as the cars circled back to the nearest gas station at the corner of Gandy and MacDill and fights broke out over who was next at the gas pump at the same time others were going around from car to car asking what direction to take.

But we digress. Fortunately, at least for us, Elena moved on, causing terrible damage elsewhere and sparing us from a catastrophe.

Getting back to the survey, they asked what we thought might be a solution and gave options such as adding more lanes, building the connector, adding a parallel road or doing nothing.

Nowhere in the survey was there any mention of mass transit or any kind of alternative transportation other than building more lanes. It makes you wonder what the planning commission people are planning for?

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