Interstate 75 at US 301 (Exit 224) Alert

If you are one of the many motorists that make Interstate 75 crossing US 301 (Exit 224) and the Manatee River a part of your day, then this blog entry is just for you! By now you have heard on the major Tampa Bay area media outlets (including Bay News 9) that a serious accident has taken place on Interstate 75 southbound as it crosses US 301 on the afternoon of Wednesday, 4 June 2008.

This accident is similar to what happened on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg back in March 2007 when a tanker flipped over on the flyover from Interstate 275 southbound to Interstate 375 eastbound (Exit 23). According to news reports, a truck swerved to avoid a motorist which resulted in a chain of events that sent the truck over the left hand rail of Interstate 75 as it crosses US 301; the truck from what I understand fell onto US 301 and caught fire which resulted in serious damage to Interstate 75’s southbound bridge crossing US 301. The truck driver from what I understand was taken to Tampa General Hospital.

Constructed in 1979 and opened to traffic in 1981, this section of Interstate 75 is one of the many sections opened when Interstate 75 was extended from Tampa to Miami by way of the southern west coast of Florida and Alligator Alley to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. In fact, this particular section from US 301 (Exit 224) in Ellenton to River Road (Exit 191) south of Venice was one of the first sections to open in 1981.

From what I understand the decision was made by the Florida DOT to replace the damaged beams and piers on the southbound bridge carrying Interstate 75 over US 301. This is going to mean inconveniences for many of you until this overpass is rebuilt. I know, this is going to mean barricades, long grueling waits in traffic and heavy Florida Highway Patrol presence.

The Florida DOT is planning on temporarily converting the northbound Interstate 75 overpass to carry two way traffic while the southbound Interstate 75 overpass is being reconstructed where it goes over US 301. From what I understand this temporary setup should be in place by Monday, 9 June 2008.

Now for a recommended detour around all of this mess.

The following affects Interstate 75 southbound if you are headed to Bradenton, Sarasota or points south. I want to emphasize that Interstate 75 northbound is not affected, but traffic will be heavy.

If you are headed south on Interstate 275 from St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge:

After crossing the Sunshine Skyway bridge on southbound Interstate 275, take the US 19 south exit which will be Exit 5. Follow US 19 south to US 41 south; continue on US 41 south across the Hernando DeSoto Bridge (which crosses the Manatee River) into Bradenton.

At the second traffic signal will be eastbound FL 64 which is marked with plenty of overhead signage. Take a left at FL 64 and follow it for about 8 or 9 miles; this will bring you back to Interstate 75 south.

If you are headed south on Interstate 75 from Tampa:

You will be directed off of Interstate 75 at Exit 224, which is US 301. Simply exit Interstate 75 at Exit 224 and follow US 301 south through the town of Ellenton to the junction of US 41. US 301 and US 41 multiplex here, so you want to follow US 41 south across the Hernando DeSoto Bridge (which crosses the Manatee River) into Bradenton.

At the second traffic signal will be eastbound FL 64 which is marked with plenty of overhead signage. Take a left at FL 64 and follow it for about 8 or 9 miles; this will bring you back to Interstate 75 south.

This detour will be in place at least until the northbound lanes of Interstate 75 crossing US 301 at Exit 224 are converted to handle temporary two-way traffic. Even after the temporary conversion is in place, you may want to keep this detour in mind as traffic will be heavy.

On a side note, for those headed to the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area from Tampa or St. Petersburg using Interstate 75, you may want to consider crossing the state from Tampa via FL 60 to the Florida Turnpike, then head southbound on the turnpike. Or, you may want to consider flying to Ft. Lauderdale; Southwest Airlines has several daily flights from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale and vice versa. Besides, with gas at the $4.00 a gallon mark I would consider flying to Ft. Lauderdale from Tampa any day.

The repairs to Interstate 75 southbound at US 301 (Exit 224) are expected to take several weeks to complete. If you are one of the many motorists who make Interstate 75 in the Bradenton/Sarasota area a part of your routine I want to hear from you!

Interstate 75 planned to get a makeover

Recently I came across an interesting article on Bay News 9 about the Florida DOT announcing plans to widen Interstate 75 from Interstate 275 (Exit 274) northward to FL 52 (Exit 285) from the current four lanes to six lanes. A highlight of the planned improvements is for northbound Interstate 75 and northbound Interstate 275 to get their own exit ramps to FL 56, which is the exit adjacent to the northern Interstate 275 terminus. Currently FL 56 – or Exit 275 as it is known – requires a quick weave movement from northbound Interstate 75 in order to exit. For those coming from Interstate 275 north a quick change of lanes is required if you want to stay on Interstate 75.

A description of the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 is available simply by clicking on this link to go to the page on Fletcher Avenue, Bearss Avenue and the northern Interstate 275 terminus in the Tampa section of Scroll down about two thirds of the way and you can check out the pictures I have of Exit 274, northbound and southbound Interstate 275 and perspective from Interstate 75. While you are there check out the background information at the top of the page.

As more and more people live in the new developments being constructed around Interstate 75 in Pasco County the original four lanes of Interstate 75 need to be widened and exits need to be reconstructed to meet the additional traffic demand. After all, you have an interstate highway which was constructed in 1965 as a rural four lane highway which was appropriate for that time period. The construction of FL 56 with a new interchange on Interstate 75 north of the Interstate 275 terminus several years ago was a start, but more is needed in order to keep up with growth.

In my opinion, it’s a splendid idea to widen Interstate 75 from Interstate 275 to FL 52 and revise the exit ramps to FL 56 from northbound Interstate 75. However, more is needed not only for those living in Pasco County and commuting to Tampa daily but for those in neighboring New Tampa in Hillsborough County as well. Here is my suggestion as to what the Florida DOT should additionally consider in planning the proposed improvements to Interstate 75:

1. Construct a flyover from northbound Interstate 75 to southbound Interstate 275.
2. Construct a ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to southbound Interstate 75.
3. Extend the widening of Interstate 75 from Interstate 275 southward to where Interstate 75 widens out to six lanes now at Fowler Avenue.
4. Widen Interstate 275 from north of Bearss Avenue to Interstate 75.

The first three items mentioned above would benefit residents of the New Tampa area by having a connection to Interstate 275 directly from Interstate 75 without having to make a turnaround at FL 56, as well as providing another way to downtown Tampa rather than Bruce B Downs or Interstate 75 south to Interstate 4 (even though the flyover at Bruce B Downs is being built). The fourth item would address capacity concerns on Interstate 275 as traffic coming from Interstate 75 and/or FL 56 would be squeezed onto a four lane highway from a spacious six lane highway, resulting in backups especially during the morning and evening commutes. The currently proposed improvements plus what I mentioned I feel would be a win-win situation for everyone on either side of the Hillsborough-Pasco County Line.

But of course improvements cost money (we’re talking multi million dollars here) and in this current day and age where Florida government has to cut back spending due to lowered property taxes, it all depends. But with rapid growth these improvements are going to be needed.

Now I want to hear your suggestions. Please feel free to post a reply with what you think on the proposed Interstate 75 expension.

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.