Just when you thought all is said and done on Interstate 4, another interstate reconstruction project is just about to get underway.
Did I say another interstate reconstruction project? Yes! Those projects where we have to dodge the construction barrels and barricades, endure heavier than normal traffic and reduced speed limits, not to mention the temporary roadways that will be in place as the project progresses.
Only this time, it's on Interstate 275 in Tampa from SR 60 (Exit 39) to the Hillsborough River just west of Ashley/Tampa/Scott Streets (Exit 44). However, the project is being done in three stages with the first stage from Himes Avenue eastward to the Hillsborough River (according to the folks at the Florida DOT at their Tampa Bay Interstates site, Interstate 275 from Exit 39 to the Hillsborough River was supposed to be done as one big project but the bids came in too high; instead, the FDOT decided to break up this project into three segments for cost reasons). So, here's the scoop on what will take place over the next few years from what I understand so far:
1. Construct the new northbound lanes using newly acquired right of way.
2. Once the new northbound lanes are open, direct traffic onto the new northbound lanes. At the same time, convert the existing northbound lanes into temporary southbound lanes.
3. Demolish the existing southbound lanes and construct new southbound lanes.
4. Once the new southbound lanes are open, demolish the existing northbound lanes.
Once this segment from Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) to the Hillsborough River is done, start with the next segment. However, I am not sure if the FDOT will be doing the segments concurrently or staggered (in other words, work on one segment at a time or do the segments with three different contractors basically at the same time).
Once this is said and done on all three Interstate 275 segments, we should see eight lanes of travel, four lanes northbound and four lanes southbound plus a spacious median which can accommodate light rail or commuter rail based transit.
Did I say light rail or commuter rail based transit?
There was a recent Bay News 9 Viewer Center iPoll on 6 August 2007 asking viewers if the construction on Interstate 275 will make a difference as to traffic congestion in the Tampa Bay area when all is said and done. According to a response I posted, I think in the short term the improvements to Interstate 275 should address the traffic congestion issue but in the long run, it is not going to work without the introduction of rail-based mass transit.
Rail based mass transit is desperately needed in the Tampa Bay area for a lot of reasons, and the one chief reason is growth. We have commuters who live out there in the suburbs (like New Tampa, Carrollwood, Lutz and Palm Harbor just to name a few) and work in places such as downtown Tampa or downtown St. Petersburg or even in the Carillon area of northeast St. Petersburg. Why? You can thank unaffordable housing for one thing because most areas close to work are probably out of the price range, thereby having to live so far away and commute a long distance to work daily. We need a rail based mass transit system that will serve the three principal communities of the Tampa Bay area - Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater - supplanted by a system of feeder buses that will run between the smaller communities and the nearest rail station for a seamless commute to and from work. Don't forget the weekends and holidays too!
When we get Interstate 275 all said and done as to the proposed reconstruction we as a Tampa Bay area should seriously consider looking at rail based mass transit. The wide medians on the newly reconstructed segments of Interstate 4 and (coming soon) Interstate 275 should allow for the implementation of a rail based mass transit system. On the other hand, I came up with a drawing of what could happen if out transit needs go unchecked and we have to eventually expand Interstate 275 to at least 20 lanes:
After all, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale has rail based mass transit. So does Washington DC and Baltimore. So does Los Angeles. Don't forget, Orlando is getting rail based mass transit soon. But if we Tampa Bay area residents don't do anything about fixing our transit issues after Interstate 275 is reconstructed this is what navigating the Tampa Bay area will be like: New York City without the subway or commuter rail (and imagine the gridlock).