Monday, February 25, 2008

Interstate 275 Widening in Tampa

Last week (17 February 2008) when the traffic pattern was shifted on Interstate 275 just past Exit 42 (Armenia and Howard Avenues) traffic got so bad that backups clear across the Howard Frankland Bridge into St. Petersburg beginning just after Exit 32 (4 St N/FL 687) are becoming the rule rather than the exception. Were you among one of the many commuters stuck on Interstate 275 and, somehow, you were late for work or that important meeting in Tampa? Or, did you miss your flight from Tampa International Airport?

Some of you tried to get around this by using the Gandy Bridge (US 92) as an alternative. No can do, due to construction and backups on the eastbound span of the Gandy Bridge. (That's right, there is work going on at Gandy Blvd. in Tampa!)

There is indeed a widening project going on at Interstate 275 in Tampa. That’s right, we need it to help alleviate congestion. The first segment from just west of Ashley Drive/Tampa Street/Scott Street (Exit 44) westward to Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) is just the icing of the cake – it’s part of a bigger project to give Interstate 275 in Tampa a major overhaul.

On Monday, 25 February 2008 I came across one of Bay News 9’s “I-Polls” where you can vote and leave a comment. The topic was about how the construction on Interstate 275 in Tampa will bring needed relief. Well, I got some bad news for you: Even with the improvements made there will not be any congestion relief for Interstate 275.


First, here is a comment I left at Bay News 9:

The widening of Interstate 275 in Tampa will bring some relief but not the relief hoped for. It is going to take a twenty lane Interstate 275 at least to solve our traffic woes. But what we desperately need here in the Tampa Bay area is rail based mass transit and it is needed now - not five years, not ten years, not twenty years! No matter why corporations won't come to the Tampa Bay region and fewer people move here all because of lack of a workable mass transit system and increasingly unaffordable housing.

If you want to live close to work (and your place of work is in a downtown area like Tampa or St. Petersburg), forget it. Unaffordable housing in the Tampa Bay area is making people take commutes of an hour or more from outlying areas such as Pasco or Hernando Counties. Not only you are throwing money down the drain in commuting costs (when will we see gasoline top $4.00 a gallon? Count on it!), you are paying high insurance due to your long commute to and from work!

So you can’t find a place close to work that is affordable for you. You explore alternatives like our present day mass transit system provided courtesy of HART and PSTA. Unfortunately, your work schedule conflicts with the bus schedules, so a car is a must.

The result: A highly clogged Interstate 275 and you are stuck in traffic going nowhere.

Now for the real solution to the clogged Interstate 275 mess, even after it’s all said and done: Rail based mass transit. Baltimore has it. Washington, DC has it. Los Angeles has it. Ft. Lauderdale and Miami have it. And Orlando is going to be getting it soon. But the Tampa Bay area lacks a great rail based mass transit system.

Why rail? Buses are great but they are subject to the same traffic gridlock you and I are used to when we drive. Rail based mass transit would provide an excellent alternative to sitting in traffic on Interstate 275 all day. Besides, you can sit back and enjoy the trip to the office rather than be stressed out.

Rail based mass transit is what the Tampa Bay area really needs, rather than a twenty lane Interstate 275. Besides, land for any expansion of Interstate 275 is at a premium and it gets very expensive.

And rail based mass transit can provide a much needed boost to the Tampa Bay area economy. Complement that with a properly widened Interstate 275 and there you go.

By the way, if all goes as planned this segment of Interstate 275 being reconstructed in Tampa is slated to be done in 2010, according to the folks at the Florida DOT. Now I want to hear from you your Interstate 275 in Tampa experiences!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It baffles me that it will take a "twenty lane" Interstate 275 to help "ease" Tampa's traffic troubles. This is a comment made not just by you Mr. Ringwald, but others out there that believe the same thing.

What has to be done to our infrastructure, and I am desperately hoping that our government will soon realize, is the establishment of a light rail system. Without this crucial component in our area, our roadways will be forever clogged in daily backups. We can only reconstruct our interstates to a point where it is financially feasible and will only relieve short-term traffic problems.

The reconstruction of the I-275/I-4 interchange was only "Interim Improvements". FDOT only had enough money bugeted to take care of the most dangerous issues regarding the interchange. Such issues included the notorious Ashley Drive merge onto I-275 north, the dangerous weaving patterns caused by the original flyover from I-275 south to I-4 east, and the sharing of lanes on I-275 south by downtown Tampa traffic and thru traffic. In fact, the "Interim Improvements" have only done so much to the interchange, that the notorious nickname "Malfunction Junction" still clings on.

And as for I-275 through West Tampa and WestShore, that will also only be "Interim Improvements", with the addition of only one travel lane in each direction of the mainline interstate. We can only hope that one day, the wide median will be used for our light rail system, connecting Tampa International Airport and WestShore, to Downtown and eventually USF and east Hillsborough County.

The biggest problem with building our dream light rail system however, is not just bickering amongst government officials. But the funding for the system. With extreme budget cuts coming from the state, I just don't see any significant improvements coming to mass transit anytime soon. Already, many have heard the news about the TECOline Streetcar. Without additional funding and donations, the system will be bankrupt within three years. As useless as the streetcar may seem to some, it is a crucial mass transit component for the city. All it takes is enough funding to build the long awaited extension up Franklin and into the downtown core. That alone may push ridership up to more acceptable levels and help keep the system running for years to come.

As for LRT, if we cannot allocate enough funds to even build a starter line between the airport and downtown, then people might as well forget about LRT being build at all within the next 20 years. The cost of everything is increasing and this will likely be the trend for quite sometime. What is worse, is trying to get enough riders to use the system. The lack of riders on our mass transit system is the reason why the "Carrollwood Express" bus route is being eliminated in March. According to HART, only six or seven people a day use that particular express route...that is miniscule. If this was the ridership numbers on LRT, then the system would cease to exist any further.

We cannot allow Tampa's LRT plan to die. We must continue to communicate with our governments to get the system started. Sooner or later, our governments WILL listen and WILL push forward to make LRT a reality. But if we just sit back and watch what happens, Tampa may not even have Sunday bus service 10 years down the road. Action must be taken now to ensure that our transportation system will not be neglected any further. Once the system is established, be sure to tell everyone that you know to hop on board the mass transit system. Help keep our cars from clogging up already congested I-275 and I-4, and help keep our sometimes unwilling government in check.