Saturday, April 28, 2007

The New Tampa Connector to Interstate 275 South

Here is the typical morning commute route from the New Tampa community to downtown Tampa: Bruce B Downs Blvd to Interstate 75, then Interstate 75 south to Interstate 4, then Interstate 4 west into downtown Tampa. Fight the traffic backups prevalent especially on Interstates 75 and 4 in the morning. Oh, and don't forget, turn on the TV and check the current traffic report given by Russ Handler on Bay News 9 before you head out the door.

Right now the Florida DOT is constructing a flyover ramp from westbound Bruce B Downs to southbound Interstate 75 in order to help ease traffic flow as traffic backs up on Bruce B Downs waiting for the light to change so that traffic can enter Interstate 75 southbound. That might sound good for you New Tampa residents out there, but I think that's not enough.

Enter the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, the purveyor of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and its reversible upper deck from Brandon to downtown Tampa. Ever since that one pier of the upper deck sank during construction a few years ago the expressway authority has been embroiled into a lot of controversy over the years leading to calls for abolition of the expressway authority from a few Florida legislators among other things.

Now the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority has something on its planning books: A connector highway that would connect New Tampa with Interstate 275. This highway, dubbed the New Tampa Connector, would be a toll road which would be privately operated. That's right, privately operated with tolls that could be so expensive that no one could afford to pay to drive on that road. At least for 30 years, perhaps, according to an article in the Tampa Tribune on 26 February 2006.

In my opinion, the New Tampa Connector road is not needed. Why?

Before I go on further, for those people stumbling onto this blog that don't know where New Tampa is, it is a community situated northeast of Tampa on Bruce B Downs Blvd., which is the main street through this community. New Tampa was built by developers in the 1990's, spurred by the completion of Interstate 75 and the construction of an interchange at Bruce B Downs Blvd. in the late 1980's. Today New Tampa is a progressive community with apartments, condominiums, shopping centers, and schools. New Tampa is part of the City of Tampa by way of annexation (those of you that live in New Tampa remember at one point secession from the City of Tampa and forming Hillsborough County's fourth incorporated city called New Tampa ... well, that's another story).

North of Bruce B Downs Blvd. on Interstate 75 (Exit 270) is the northern terminus of Interstate 275, Exit 274. This is where the extension of Interstate 75 from the Hillsborough-Pasco County line to Miami took place in leaps and bounds with early segments around Ft. Myers in the late 1970's. The Alligator Alley connecting Naples with Ft. Lauderdale was reconstructed and absorbed into Interstate 75 around 1991, creating a continuous interstate highway from FL 826 in Miami to the Canadian Border in Sault St. Marie, Michigan.

Now what's so special about the Interstate 275 northern terminus? It's simple: The Interstate 275 northern terminus only features northbound entry onto and southbound exit from Interstate 75, while the southern terminus of Interstate 275 in Manatee County near Ellenton is a full access interchange.

Presently those who want to enter Interstate 275 southbound from Interstate 75 northbound cannot directly do so - instead, motorists must go to the next exit on Interstate 75 northbound, Exit 275/FL 56, and turn around there.

So, my suggestion would be for the Florida DOT to consider converting the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 from a partial access interchange to a full access interchange. Ramps cound be built with capacity for the commuter traffic that would use it in the morning and in the evening. The ramp from northbound Interstate 75 to southbound Interstate 275 would be constructed as a gradual loop with a right exit from Interstate 75 northbound, then over a flyover bridge to Interstate 275 southbound entering on the right hand side. On the other hand, the ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to southbound Interstate 75 would be a gradual right curve ramp with two lanes.

Then Interstate 75 would be widened from the current four lanes to six lanes from Interstate 275 to Bruce B Downs Blvd with the capability for expansion later on down the road. Especially on the Interstate 75 southbound lanes, the third right lane would be needed to avert traffic backups on the Interstate 75 southbound mainline headed towards Bruce B Downs Blvd.

And don't forget, we got County Line Road that crosses the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75. As this area grows later on we can add access to both Interstate 75 and southbound Interstate 275 from County Line Road.

Problem solved.

If the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 would be converted from partial to full access it would give New Tampa residents two better options to get to downtown Tampa in the morning: Either use the new flyover from westbound Bruce B Downs or head north on Interstate 75 for only four miles to the Interstate 275 northern terminus.

But in the long run, fixing and widening roads is not the cure-all: The Tampa Bay area needs a rail-based mass transit system in order to cope with the increasing demand. But that's a topic for another blog entry altogether.

So, money could be saved somehow by not constructing the New Tampa Connector and instead upgrading the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 from a partial to a full access interchange. As for the land set aside for the New Tampa Connector, let's use the land for something else which would benefit the public interest. As for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, it needs to spend its money wisely elsewhere (such as identifying another expressway needs, either elsewhere in Hillsborough County or upgrading Gandy Blvd. from the Gandy Bridge to the current southern terminus of the Crosstown Expressway) and not on a toll road that will not be affordable for everyone to use.

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