Another Interstate 275 Reconstruction Project Underway at Exit 28 (Gandy Blvd.)

If you have noticed the signs and the construction equipment on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg from Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28) to the 62 Av N overpass, another reconstruction project is underway. Like all the other reconstruction projects that have taken place on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg, it’s going to involve the replacement of concrete slabs in places where it has deteriorated. After that is done then the concrete pavement will be grinded down to a travelable surface. I am not sure if signage is going to be replaced as needed or not like all of the other Interstate 275 reconstruction projects.

This project will take place not only on the mainline Interstate 275 but also on the Gandy Blvd. ramps as well, which may mean ramp closures from time to time and hopefully these closures should take place at night when there is not a lot of traffic. After all, Gandy Blvd. is one of Interstate 275’s heavily used exits as traffic to and from Pinellas Park and Seminole plus those that live in the far northeast St. Petersburg community use this interchange. Additionally, Gandy Blvd. sees plenty of traffic especially during the morning and afternoon rush hour.

While we’re on the subject of Interstate 275 at Gandy Blvd., I have drawn up a conceptual plan as to how the interchange on Interstate 275 at Gandy Blvd. should be reconfigured given today’s (and tomorrow’s projected) traffic volume. You may want to head on over to my page on my conceptual Interstate 275 at Exit 28 makeover at Interstate275Florida.com and read more about my conceptual plan to make traffic easier.

According to the folks at the Florida DOT by way of the myTBI.com website the Interstate 275 reconstruction from Gandy Blvd. to the 62 Av N overpass should be wrapped up around Spring 2008. Like I have mentioned on previous posts any Interstate 275 construction project is going to mean some inconvenience but in the end we will have a better Interstate 275 for all.

Reflections on the Minneapolis bridge tragedy in relation to the Sunshine Skyway

We experienced another tragedy with the collapse of the bridge that carries Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on 1 August 2007. From seeing the video of the collapse as it happened it is believed that there are injuries and deaths as a result of the bridge collapse. But before I go on further, please let me say that my thoughts go out to the families affected by this bridge collapse.

It brings back memories of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge disaster that happened on 9 May 1980. For most of us living in the Tampa Bay area around that time we definitely remember what happened. The freighter Summit Venture collided with the southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in a blinding rainstorm at 7:38 AM, first striking a major channel pier and then striking the pier immediately south of the major channel pier. This pier – which held up the south cantilever – upon impact by the ship and the pier being sheared off at the base began a series of events that led to 1,260 feet of concrete and steel dropped 150 feet into Tampa Bay taking with it 35 lives including several on a Greyhound bus headed for Miami. Only two people survived this terrible tribulation: Richard Hornbuckle who managed to stop his Buick only 14 inches from going over the edge and Wesley McIntire who went off the bridge but managed to survive by escaping from his pickup truck and swimming upwards to the surface where he was rescued by the crew of the Summit Venture.

I remember that morning when I was getting ready for school and it was raining. Then I heard on the radio that a ship was on a collision course with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Later on when I saw the pictures on TV at school I was shocked to see a Sunshine Skyway Bridge missing a tooth: 1,260 feet of bridge from just south of the north main channel pier to the pier south of the pier that was destroyed by the ship. The images of these channel piers plus the wreckage on the bow of the Summit Venture would be indeed ingrained in our memories for the forseeable future. For the next seven years the monument to disaster on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge would be that main channel pier on the south side of the shipping channel that held up the southbound span (that’s the channel pier that looked different than the other three main channel piers as a result of repairs done in 1969, two years before the southbound span opened in 1971). That monument to disaster was torn down in 1991 when the old Sunshine Skyway was demolished.

Back when the Sunshine Skyway fell in 1980 Interstate 275 was not part of the Sunshine Skyway yet – that would come seven years later when the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened and Interstate 275 was completed through St. Petersburg. The rest of the Sunshine Skyway’s minor bridges and highway were brought up to interstate standards including the drawbridges that were torn down and reconstructed as high level fixed span bridges in the early 1990’s. After all, none of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spans (1954 and 1971) were built to interstate standards. Right after the tragedy there was talk of not including the Sunshine Skyway with Interstate 275; however, the construction of Interstate 275 was a crucial asset to the Tampa Bay area and, as such, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as we know it today is that crucial link to Interstate 275.

As for the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, it carries Interstate 35W as it crosses the Mississippi River and through metropolitan Minneapolis. A companion interstate highway, Interstate 35E, carries traffic through St. Paul, which is Minnesota’s state capital. Interstate 35 is unique in that it has two route designations as it passes through two metropolises, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Back when the Interstate Highway System was planned these letter suffixes were allowed but the United States DOT’s Federal Highway Administration, acting on the advice of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), did away with the suffixes and no longer allowed their use. However, the Interstate 35W and 35E designations were allowed to be grandfathered. Here in the Tampa Bay area when Interstate 75 was being constructed it was planned for Interstate 75 to go through the metropolitan areas of Tampa and St. Petersburg and the bypass route was planned to be Interstate 75E. The routes were constructed but the numbering didn’t happen as planned as letter suffixes were no longer allowed when the bypass route was being planned. Today Interstate 75 runs on the newly constructed bypass route that takes it east of Tampa and the original Interstate 75 that goes into Tampa and St. Petersburg is today’s Interstate 275.

Please feel free to browse the Interstate 275 Florida site and be sure to check out the Sunshine Skyway Bridge page. Your comments and reflections, especially about the recent bridge collapse tragedy in Minneapolis, are always welcome.

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.