Exit Numbering Changes on Interstate 275 in Tampa

By now you are getting used to the new southbound lanes on Interstate 275 in Tampa from downtown Tampa to Exit 39 (FL 60 to Tampa International Airport as well as Clearwater).  The good news is that all the exits are now from the right lane as opposed to the temporary left lane exits.
With the new southbound lanes of Interstate 275 open come a couple of exit numbering changes for Dale Mabry Highway (US 92) and Himes Avenue, according to Tampa Bay Interstates, the Florida DOT’s Tampa Bay Region interstate construction page.  Here’s what the exits used to be before the reconstruction project began:
Northbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway southbound
Exit 41B – Dale Mabry Highway northbound
Southbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41C – Himes Avenue
Exit 41B – Dale Mabry Highway northbound
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway southbound
Now with the circular ramps from Interstate 275 to Dale Mabry Highway gone, this changes the makeup of the Dale Mabry/Himes interchange complex on Interstate 275.  That said, here’s the exits in the new format:
Northbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway
Southbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41B – Himes Avenue
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway
So, in order to exit Interstate 275 at Dale Mabry Highway, you will use the ramp at Exit 41A to proceed in either direction on Dale Mabry Highway.  Himes Avenue – which used to be Exit 41C but is now Exit 41B – is a northbound entrance and southbound exit ramp.
Dale Mabry Highway is also known as US 92, the cross Florida highway from St. Petersburg to Daytona Beach that parallels and predates Interstate 4.  While Dale Mabry Highway is a north-south road, US 92 is an east-west highway explained thus:
Dale Mabry Highway northbound – US 92 eastbound
Dale Mabry Highway southbound – US 92 westbound
 
We’ll be also updating the Interstate275Florida.com Tampa pages with new pictures as soon as new signage is installed and lane configurations are in their permanent configurations.  Stay tuned!
 
 

More big changes coming to southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa!

Motorists, get ready for yet another big change on Interstate 275 southbound in Tampa!
If you have had the chance or if your travels take you on southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa south of downtown Tampa, you have seen the new southbound lanes take shape along with plenty of brand new signage.  Now a new construction milestone is on the horizon when southbound Interstate 275 traffic will get to use the new southbound lanes.
Another benefit of the new Interstate 275 southbound lanes is that all the exits – Howard/Armenia Avenues (Exit 42), Himes Avenue (Exit 41B), Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41A), Lois Avenue (Exit 40B) and Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) – will be right lane exits instead of the temporary left lane exits we’ve been used to while the construction project is taking place.  No more having to go through temporary ramps to get to where you need to go.
Unfortunately, the switch over is going to mean some inconvenience and the switch over will be taking place during night time hours.  This will mean detours and traffic delays while the switch over takes place.
According to Tampa Bay Interstates, the switch over will take place on Friday evening, 27 March 2015 beginning at 11:30 PM and wrapped up by Saturday morning, 28 March 2015 at 5:30 AM.  This is subject to change due to weather conditions; if weather conditions make it unsafe to do the switch over it will be done the next night or a night when conditions are safe.
Now here’s the detour when the switch over is taking place:
Expect to be detoured off of Interstate 275 southbound (this includes westbound Interstate 4 transitioning to southbound Interstate 275) at Exit 45A, which is Downtown East/West which will put you on either Jefferson Street or Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa.  Go south on either street to Kennedy Blvd., also known as FL 60.
Follow Kennedy Blvd. west across the Hillsborough River.  Kennedy Blvd. provides access to the southbound Interstate 275 exits that will be closed during the switch over:  Armenia/Howard Avenues, Himes Avenue, Dale Mabry Highway (US 92), Lois Avenue and Westshore Blvd.
Now if you are headed to Tampa International Airport or St. Petersburg, continue to head west on Kennedy Blvd.  To reach St. Petersburg you will take a left at the intersection where Kennedy Blvd. continues west to southbound Interstate 275.  To reach Tampa International Airport, continue straight (Kennedy Blvd. becomes Memorial Highway) and follow the signs.  Be sure to be in your right lane as you approach the Tampa International Airport entrance and watch for traffic coming from northbound Interstate 275 as you make the lane changes.
ALTERNATIVE DETOUR ROUTE FOR ST. PETERSBURG IF COMING FROM WESTBOUND INTERSTATE 4:  Take the Selmon Crosstown connector to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway (FL Toll 618), and follow the Selmon Crosstown westbound to its end at Gandy Blvd. (US 92).  West on Gandy Blvd. across the Gandy Bridge to St. Petersburg; continue west on Gandy Blvd. to Interstate 275 south.  Be aware of construction on Gandy Blvd. at 4 St N and Martin Luther King St N as there are temporary lane shifts in the area.
Be advised that the Selmon Crosstown is a toll road and tolls are collected via SunPass or toll-by-plate (no cash is accepted).  But believe me, it’s worth the toll to get around the expected congestion when the detours on Interstate 275 are in effect.
When the new southbound Interstate 275 lanes open, be aware that the new right lane exits at Exits 41B, 41A and 40B are in close succession.  Plan accordingly and be in the right lane for your intended exit.
Hopefully all the construction on Interstate 275 south of downtown Tampa should be wrapped up in the latter part of 2016.  But when it’s all said and done, you will have four lanes of travel in either direction and there will be space in the center median for what I hope someday will be the answer to the Tampa Bay region’s transit needs:  Rail based mass transit in the form of commuter rail or light rail.  After all, Miami and Orlando already have rail based mass transit; the time has now come for Tampa to have rail based mass transit which will provide a much needed turbo-boost to the economy of the Tampa Bay region.  As I have mentioned previously, you can widen Interstate 275 to 20 lanes but you will still have traffic gridlock because of not so many transit choices.
 

Westshore Blvd exit (Exit 40A) closure alert

Since this is the first post of 2015, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year!  Hopefully you got to ring in the New Year happily and safely.
I noticed a variable message alert on the Interstate 275 variable message boards just lately and I noticed that the exit to Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) from southbound Interstate 275 is going to close on 8 January 2015 sometime between 12 Midnight and 5:30 AM and remain closed until May 2015, according to Tampa Bay Interstates, the Florida DOT’s website for all interstate and highway construction in the Tampa Bay region.  This is necessary so that the new southbound Interstate 275 lanes can be constructed in this area and the ramp to Westshore Blvd. from southbound Interstate 275 can be constructed in its permanent configuration.  You have undoubtedly seen the work on the overpass on southbound Interstate 275 at Westshore Blvd. as it progresses, not to mention the temporary lane shifts necessitating a 45 mph speed limit as you pass through the area.
As the Westshore Blvd. exit is a highly used exit not only for commuters who work in any of the office complexes in Tampa’s Westshore district but for anyone staying at any of the hotels in the vicinity of Westshore Blvd. and Interstate 275, not to mention Westshore Plaza including the AMC Theatres Westshore 14 to catch the latest and greatest movies there, if you use this exit on a frequent basis you need to read this as to how it will affect how you will get to destinations in Tampa’s Westshore district.  I know, it’s going to be an inconvenience for a little bit but you will see a much improved Interstate 275 in the end.

I have seen a lot of progress on the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa of lately.  I think the goal is to get these southbound lanes opened as soon as possible so that the contractor can get started on getting the northbound lanes constructed, especially in the area around the Dale Mabry Highway (Exits 41A/B, US 92) interchange.  (In fact, just recently I have seen backups into the northbound Interstate 275 mainline of motorists exiting northbound Interstate 275 at Dale Mabry Highway in order to get to Raymond James Stadium for events taking place there).

The detour for Westshore Blvd., according to Tampa Bay Interstates, is for motorists to take the right hand exit for both Dale Mabry Highway and Lois Avenue, which is reached from a single exit location just before the left hand exit for Himes Avenue (Exit 41C).  Follow the signage in order to reach Lois Avenue; actually you will exit onto Cypress Street rather than Lois Avenue.  Once on Cypress Street proceed west on Cypress Street past Lois Avenue for about a half a mile to Westshore Blvd.
When the Westshore Blvd. exit from southbound Interstate 275 closes temporarily, please keep in mind the following exits from southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa from downtown Tampa to FL 60/Tampa International Airport that are open (this is subject to change as construction on Interstate 275 progresses):
Exit 42, Armenia/Howard Avenues (temporary left exit – use left lane)
Exits 41A-B and Exit 40B, Dale Mabry Highway and Lois Avenue (via Cypress Street)
Exit 41C, Himes Avenue (temporary left exit – use left lane) 
Exit 39, FL 60 to Tampa International Airport, Clearwater and FL Toll 589/Veterans Expressway
If you miss Exits 41A-B (Dale Mabry/Lois via Cypress) and you do not want to have to cross the Howard Frankland Bridge to have to make a U-turn at Exit 32, 4 St N in St. Petersburg, use Exit 39 and you can go through Tampa International Airport (follow the signs for the terminal and airport exit). 

Overall, the entire maze of temporary lanes, 45 mph reduced speed limits and temporary lane shifts on Interstate 275 in Tampa between Kennedy Blvd. (Exit 39, FL 60) and downtown Tampa at the Hillsborough River should be history by sometime in 2016 when all is said and done.  We’ll have not only a wider Interstate 275 to travel on, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a commuter rail line in the center?  After all, Interstate 275 in Tampa is being reconstructed to accommodate a commuter rail line sometime in the future; after all, the Tampa Bay region needs commuter rail if it wants to be competitive with Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando which already have commuter rail systems.

The Dale Mabry Colundrum

As you more than likely know already, the Florida DOT has closed the exit ramp to Dale Mabry Highway (Exits 41A-B) from southbound Interstate 275.  This is needed so that work can progress on the new southbound lanes of Interstate 275 which is taking shape.
Unfortunately, this closure has created mass confusion as motorists wanting to access Dale Mabry Highway – also known as US 92 – from southbound Interstate 275 must exit at Himes Avenue (Exit 41C).  Adding to the confusion is the fact that motorists must be in the left hand lane to exit; in other words, this is a left exit like its counterparts at Interstate 375 (Exit 23A) and Interstate 175 (Exit 22) in downtown St. Petersburg.  Miss the Himes Avenue exit and you will have to exit at Westshore Blvd.
As in most construction zones, the left exit to Himes Avenue is marked with temporary signage mounted on wooden posts similar to how California mounts their post mounted interstate signage.  So, how do you get to Dale Mabry Highway from southbound Interstate 275, now that you have to exit at Himes Avenue and the exit ramps to Dale Mabry are closed?
It depends on which way you are going on Dale Mabry:
If you are going south on Dale Mabry, take a left onto Himes Avenue and go south to Cypress Street.  West on Cypress Street to Dale Mabry Highway.
If you are going north on Dale Mabry, take a right onto Himes Avenue and go north to Spruce Street.  West on Spruce Street to Dale Mabry Highway.
But what if you are going to Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  It’s simple as taking a right onto Himes Avenue but you want to go straight ahead on Himes Avenue past Columbus Drive and the stadium will be on your left.  Just be sure to follow posted variable message signage for game day parking.
Now I want your opinion on how the Dale Mabry ramp closure is affecting you.  Go ahead, sound off by leaving a comment in the reply box below.  Just make sure to keep the comments clean, that’s all I ask.
 

Why the backups on Interstate 275 in Tampa?

I know, it’s been a long while since I posted here at the Interstate 275 Florida Blog but I have been so busy of lately.  However, I have seen plenty of backups out there on Interstate 275, so let’s get started.

On one weekend the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa were narrowed to one lane resulting in enormous traffic backups, sometimes backed up as far as the hump of the Howard Frankland Bridge, as a result of the reconstruction project taking place.  Why the backups?


Usually, lane closures are scheduled during the nighttime hours when traffic is at its lightest.  But why the closures during the day, especially when you have people coming out of a Rays game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg among other things?  A lane closure or two can translate into potential gridlock, especially during the morning and/or evening commute.

Then you got your usual backups on northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa just as you come off the Howard Frankland Bridge during the evening commute.  This is something we’re used to on a daily basis.

My take on the backups on Interstate 275 is this:


I think the Florida DOT could have done something better before the first shovel of dirt was turned on the Interstate 275 mega-reconstruction project from FL 60 (Exit 39) to Ashley Drive/Tampa Street/Scott Street (Exit 44) as far as commuters and other users of Interstate 275 are concerned.  That something better can be found 200 miles to the southeast:  Fort Lauderdale when Interstate 95 was reconstructed.

And the solution while Interstate 95 was being reconstructed was commuter rail, and out of that Tri-Rail was born.  Tri-Rail was supposed to be a temporary commute alternative; however, once all was said and done on Interstate 95 the ridership on Tri-Rail was so popular with Fort Lauderdale/Miami area commuters that Tri-Rail became a permanent fixture of the South Florida transit landscape, giving its residents a sensible choice.

Why couldn’t the Florida DOT implement at least a temporary commuter rail alternative while Interstate 275 in Tampa is being reconstructed?  The existing CSX railroad tracks that run from Tampa to St. Petersburg through Clearwater I believe could have been put to good passenger use; after all, the last time passenger trains ran on that line was in 1984 when Amtrak discontinued service into St. Petersburg.

However, rail based mass transit in the Tampa Bay region is indeed garnering more and more support.  Once the Interstate 275 mega-reconstruction project in Tampa is done, the median will be wide enough to accommodate a possible commuter rail line that can run in the middle of Interstate 275.

After all, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale has Tri-Rail.  Orlando now has SunRail.  Why can’t Tampa/St. Petersburg?  Our region needs rail based mass transit if we want to be competitive with other Florida metropolitan areas.

The Selmon Crosstown to Interstate 4 Connector

Happy New Year!  Hopefully everyone got the New Year off to a great start!
On Monday, 6 January 2014 the Selmon Crosstown Expressway to Interstate 4 connector opened for traffic.  This highway is a much needed relief not only for the trucks that need direct access to the Port of Tampa but for the residents of the area surrounding 21st Street and 22nd Street in Tampa’s Ybor City District that have had to put up with the trucks moving between Interstate 4 and the Port of Tampa.  Despite the detours such as onto FL 60 from the Crosstown at various times during construction the end result is an accessible product that fits into the Tampa Bay region’s highway puzzle.
Additionally, the Selmon Crosstown/Interstate 4 connector also provides for a hurricane evacuation route for those coming from St. Petersburg and southern Pinellas County.  Now that it’s 2014, in August it will be ten years since Hurricane Charley attempted to set its sights on the Tampa Bay region; remember the traffic backups if you were one of the folks that had to evacuate?
In fact, I took a ride on the newly opened Selmon to Interstate 4 connector the day it opened.  I can tell you one thing:  The connector allows you to transition from Interstate 4 to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and vice versa seamlessly.  It’s well worth the toll!
In order to use the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector you will need a SunPass, as no cash tolls are collected as is the standard practice now on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  If you don’t have a SunPass, that’s no problem; license plate readers mounted on the electronic toll gantry will read your license plate and send you a bill for the toll.
However, having the SunPass is the best:  Not only you don’t have to pay the $1.25 toll for toll-by-plate; you can also avoid the $2.50 administrative charge.  The toll for the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector for those with a SunPass is only $1.00!
OK.  While the new Selmon/Interstate 4 connector is open, you can only go a certain way from the Crosstown to Interstate 4 and vice versa.  This blog entry will help you in which way you can go:
Eastbound Selmon Crosstown can use the connector to transition to eastbound Interstate 4.
Eastbound Interstate 4 can use the connector to transition to eastbound Selmon Crosstown using the local lanes only.  There is no access to the express lanes on the Selmon Crosstown.
Westbound Selmon Crosstown can use the connector to transition to westbound Interstate 4 to Interstate 275, including Tampa International Airport.  There is no access to the connector from the Selmon Crosstown’s express lanes.
Westbound Interstate 4 can use the connector to transition to westbound Selmon Crosstown to downtown Tampa as well as to St. Petersburg via Gandy Blvd. (US 92).
This cannot be over-emphasized enough:  There is no access to the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector from the Selmon Crosstown’s express lanes.  Access to the Selmon/Interstate 4 connector from the Selmon Crosstown is only from the Selmon Crosstown’s local lanes.
If you haven’t been out to check out the new Selmon/Interstate 4 connector, you owe it to yourself to check it out!
 

The Exit 59 Headache

Here’s an article I found at Bay News 9 by their Real Time Traffic Expert Chuck Henson on the problems encountered at Exit 59, which is the exit to FL 56 and Interstate 275’s northern end together with Interstate 75.  Why all the mess?
 
Good question, if you may ask.
 
As you probably know, Interstate 275 from Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) to the northern terminus at Interstate 75 and FL 56 (Exit 59) has been widened from four lanes to six lanes.  In general, Interstate 275 is six lanes almost throughout its entire 59 mile route through St. Petersburg and Tampa, save for some minor four lane sections along the route.
 
For the commuter returning home to Wesley Chapel from downtown Tampa having six lanes on Interstate 275 is ideal.  Unfortunately, just before you reach Exit 59 the three lanes northbound quickly dissolve into two lanes thanks to a right lane ends warning sign.  Just after the right lane merges into the center lane then the exit for FL 56 (Exit 59), with the two through lanes funneling traffic onto northbound Interstate 75.  According to the Bay News 9 article, traffic on northbound Interstate 275 approaching Exit 59 experiences delays, especially during peak commute times, thanks to the lane drop before the exit.
 
Why couldn’t the Florida DOT complete the northbound three lanes of Interstate 275 and let the right lane drop at Exit 59 as an exit only lane?  According to the Bay News 9 article, Kris Carson of the Florida DOT mentions that the remainder of the northbound three lanes of Interstate 275 from where it ends now to the FL 56 exit is the small part of the larger widening project.  It should have been completed as part of the project already, and it’s practically easy enough.
 
While we’re on the subject of Interstate 275’s northern terminus at Interstate 75 and FL 56, I believe more should have been done:
 
1.  Add a ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to southbound Interstate 75 providing direct access rather than having to turn around at FL 56.
 
2.  Add a flyover ramp from northbound Interstate 75 to southbound Interstate 275, again providing a direct access flyover rather than having to turn around at FL 56.
 
3.  Make the County Line Road overpass a full overpass bridge crossing both Interstate 75 and 275 mainlines.  When the County Line Road overpass was built in the 1980’s as part of the Interstate 75 southward expansion project it was rebuilt into two overpasses, one crossing the Interstate 75 mainline and southbound Interstate 275 ramp and the smaller overpass crossing the northbound Interstate 275 ramp feeding traffic onto northbound Interstate 75.  Having a full overpass bridge would allow for future expansion, not to mention a potential interchange.
 
Adding the additional ramps to Interstate 275’s northern terminus at Interstate 75 would make the interchange a full fledged interchange at Interstate 75’s Exit 274, similar to Interstate 275’s southern terminus in Manatee County at Interstate 75’s Exit 228.  Moreover, adding the additional ramps would make life easier for New Tampa residents with another commute choice to downtown Tampa using Interstate 275 as opposed to Interstate 75 south to Interstate 4.
 
Don’t forget to complement the commute choices with rail based transit.  Sure we can widen and improve Interstate 275 but we can do only so much.  But adding the ramps at Interstate 275’s northern terminus would provide free flow access rather than have motorists go through two traffic signals at FL 56 as part of the interchange.


The Howard Frankland Bridge: An Important Piece of the Tampa Bay Region Transportation Puzzle

By now you more than likely have heard about a potential replacement of the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, which carries Interstate 275 traffic between St. Petersburg and Tampa.  Of course the Howard Frankland Bridge – known informally over the years as the Frankenstein and the Car Strangled Banner in the Howard Frankland’s single four lane span heydays – is an important piece of the Tampa Bay region’s transportation puzzle and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
 
Replacement of the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge?  Let me give you a brief historical backgrounder, which you can also find on the Howard Frankland page at Interstate275Florida.com

A brief backgrounder of the Howard Frankland Bridge
 
As the Tampa Bay region’s interstate highways began to take shape with the introduction of Interstate 4 into Tampa and terminating in St. Petersburg, a third crossing of Tampa Bay was a necessity.  In the late 1950’s the needed real estate was available to develop the Tampa Bay region’s interstate highways piece by piece.
 
With that in mind, the Howard Frankland Bridge was constructed as a slender four lane span with a low raised concrete divider as the center divider.  The Howard Frankland Bridge opened to traffic in 1960 which essentially brought Interstate 4 to St. Petersburg, terminating at where Exit 31 (Ulmerton Road/FL 688 and Martin Luther King St N) is located today.  Within months of opening head on collisions were getting to be commonplace on the bridge, which led to a Jersey barrier wall being constructed in the center divider with the barrier wall being topped by a low rise fence in the 1970’s.
 
The Howard Frankland’s notorious distinction for so many accidents and traffic backups and mega-delays on either side of the bridge led the Florida DOT to construct a second parallel span – which is higher and more modern that does meet interstate highway standards – and the span was opened to traffic in 1991.  The original 1960 span would be refurbished and converted into a span carrying northbound Interstate 275 traffic.
 
Fast forward from 1960 and 1991 to today
 
The original 1960 Howard Frankland Bridge – despite improvements done in 1991 and 1992 to refurbish the span – is nearing the end of its service life.  Despite the eight lanes that the Howard Frankland Bridge is now, the Tampa Bay region’s growth continues at an unprecedented rate (with the only exception being the recent economic downturn).
 
There are plans in the works, according to the Florida DOT, to replace the original 1960 span with a newer, more modern span that better meets interstate standards.  Presently on the Howard Frankland’s northbound span is only one emergency breakdown lane and its width is a recipe for major northbound gridlock backed up as far as Exit 32 (4 St N/FL 687) in St. Petersburg if a major accident occurs on the bridge.
 
The replacement northbound span is supposed to follow the curvature and height of the 1991 southbound span and it is supposed to look similar.  However, the Florida DOT has the chance to seize the opportunity:  A transit corridor that carries light rail or even commuter rail between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
 
How can a new Howard Frankland span play a role in the quest for rail based mass transit in the Tampa Bay region
 
The Howard Frankland Bridge is an important piece of the Tampa Bay region’s transportation puzzle.  And it will become a more important piece of the transportation puzzle if and when rail based mass transit is introduced to the Tampa Bay region.
 
You probably have this thought in your mind:  Our area doesn’t need rail based mass transit; simply more buses will do.  You are wrong.  Rail based mass transit is a choice of intra-regional travel that we residents of the Tampa Bay region do not have, unlike the residents of Miami-Ft. Lauderdale who have Tri-Rail and Orlando who are just about to have SunRail.
 
Realize that valuable real estate is at a premium today despite the real estate crisis that drove down property values.  Even with the improvements going on at Interstate 275 in Tampa you can expand Interstate 275 so much that you can get away with a total of eight lanes, which equates to four lanes in each direction.  But eight lanes of Interstate 275 isn’t enough.
 
You can solve the Tampa Bay region’s transit issues by putting more buses on the roads, including the use of so-called “bus rapid transit” or dedicated bus lanes.  However, when buses exit the dedicated bus lanes buses are subject to the same traffic delays as other motorists are subjected to daily.  However, simply adding more buses – including the express buses from St. Petersburg (operated by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA) or Clearwater (operated by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, or HART) to downtown Tampa – isn’t enough.
 
So enter rail based mass transit.  And I don’t care if it’s commuter rail, light rail or a combination of the two.
 
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando are lucky.  But for Tampa/St. Petersburg as of today, the only options for rail transit are limited to excursion style rail trips as opposed to commuter style rail trips:  Either a day trip on Amtrak’s Silver Star (Trains 91 and 92) to Winter Haven and back, or a trip on a historical six mile stretch of railroad from Parrish to Willow round trip in northern Manatee County at the Florida Railroad Museum.
 
Besides, rail based mass transit would be a major economic shot in the arm for the Tampa Bay region.  We would see more and more major companies consider the Tampa Bay region more seriously in their relocation to Florida plans as commuters would have access to more choices.  We would see more and more people taking in professional sporting events such as at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg (home of the Tampa Bay Rays) or at Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) or the Tampa Bay Times Forum – formerly the St. Pete Times Forum (and the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning) – in Tampa, without the hassle and inconvenience of parking and the long trip back home after the game.
 
Imagine for a moment.  You live in, let’s say New Tampa.  You want to take in a baseball game across the bay in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field.  The Tampa Bay Rays decided after all these years of “let’s move” that staying put at Tropicana Field is a much better option than anything else.  Simply hop in your car for a very short ride to the park and ride somewhere in New Tampa, where you pick up a light rail train that follows Bruce B. Downs Blvd. into downtown Tampa.  There you switch to a commuter rail train and enjoy a leisurely ride across Tampa Bay using a dedicated rail transit envelope corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge to St. Petersburg and the Gateway Transit Station located in the Carillon office complex.  Then you switch to a light rail train that takes you straight to Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg, get off and make your way to your seat in the 300 Upper Deck Level.  Enjoy the pre-game festivities including the National Anthem and the game itself.
 
Furthermore, rail based mass transit can save residents in the Tampa Bay region money in the long run.  How can that be?
 
We depend on our cars for easy, yet dependable transportation to get us from Point A to Point B and vice versa.  But the downside of car ownership, besides the high gas prices, is car insurance which gets higher and higher at every renewal.  You might not realize this, but a major factor that drives your car insurance rates is how many miles do you drive one way to your work place daily.  The longer your commute to work is, the more you pay in auto insurance.
 
Let’s do the homework.  Assume that you live in New Tampa and that you work in downtown Tampa.  As the distance is a little considerable between New Tampa and downtown Tampa as opposed to living in downtown Tampa and walking to work (which is good for your health, but the costs of living in downtown Tampa are quite prohibitive), you would pay a good chunk of money every year in auto insurance premiums.  In order to help reduce your auto insurance premiums, you decide to commute to work in downtown Tampa on the light rail route that takes you down Bruce B. Downs.
 
OK.  Here’s another New Tampa resident scenario, but this time you commute to your workplace at the First Central Tower in downtown St. Petersburg.  Right now, if you commuted there by your own car five days a week, not only you would be paying for gasoline as well as wear and tear on your car, you would be paying a lot more in auto insurance due to the heavy commute.  In order for you to save money on your auto insurance (and save some extra cash for that vacation you and your family want to take for a long time), you decide to commute to work in downtown St. Petersburg using a system of light and commuter rail:
 
1.  From New Tampa, a light rail line via Bruce B. Downs Blvd. to downtown Tampa.
 
2.  At downtown Tampa, transfer seamlessly over to the commuter rail line which takes you to St. Petersburg by way of the newly created transit corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge.  While you are seated (and concentrating on reading the morning newspaper), watch as you pass by backed up traffic on Interstate 275 during the morning commute.
 
3.  Once in St. Petersburg, arrive at the Gateway Transit Station in the Carillon office complex.  Transfer seamlessly to light rail for your trip to downtown St. Petersburg and to work at the First Central Tower at 360 Central Avenue.
 
And another thing I forgot to mention on the subject of why it costs to commute to work, especially if you work in downtown St. Petersburg or downtown Tampa:  You have to pay for parking in a parking garage.  Parking garage rents can quite considerably impact your personal bottom line, especially if you are working in a clerical position.
 
So, here’s a run down of what your expenses would be commuting to work in one of the downtowns, personal automobile vs. rail transit:
 
Personal Automobile:
 
1.  Wear and tear on your automobile, not to mention the miles you put on your odometer daily.
 
2.  Increased costs of car insurance.  Remember, the further your commute to work the more you pay for car insurance.
 
3.  Having to spend a good portion of your personal weekly budget on gasoline for your car.  After all, the cost of gasoline keeps climbing – you will wish there is a rail based alternative if and when gas hits $4.00 a gallon in the Tampa Bay region again.
 
4.  Monthly parking garage expenses, especially if your employer does not subsidize your parking.  Imagine working a clerical job in downtown St. Petersburg and you are paying $70 a month for parking.
 
Rail Transit:
 
1.  The cost of a monthly pass.
 
As you can see, the practical cost of commuting to work using rail based mass transit would just be the cost of a monthly transit pass.  In fact, more and more employers offer monthly passes to their employees at a discounted rate in order to entice them to give up driving to work in exchange for a leisurely, yet relaxing commute to work using rail based mass transit.
 
A rail based transit corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge, as part of the planned reconstruction of the Howard Frankland’s northbound span, would be an important, yet necessary, part of the Tampa Bay region’s transportation puzzle.  It would change the face of the Tampa Bay region on an economic scale.
 
More uses of a rail based transit corridor for the Howard Frankland Bridge
 
Having rail based mass transit on a newly constructed rail corridor of the Howard Frankland Bridge would not only give the Tampa Bay region an economic shot in the arm, there are also plenty of other uses besides commuting to and from work.
 
Access to Tampa International Airport
 
Let’s say you want to take a vacation or you needed to go out of town on business.  You live in St. Petersburg.
 
Right now you have two options:  Drive yourself to the airport and pay $9 per day for parking in Tampa International Airport’s economy parking garage.  Or pay for taxi or shuttle fare and have them take you to the airport.
 
With rail based mass transit, that would give you yet another option to get to Tampa International Airport.  As you live in St. Petersburg, simply drive to the nearest light rail park and ride and catch the light rail over to the Gateway Transit Station in Carillon.  There seamlessly transfer to commuter rail for a relaxing trip across Tampa Bay instead of being stuck in gridlocked Interstate 275 traffic.  Arrive at Tampa International Airport and catch your flight.
 
And the cost?  A one way ticket from where you got on the light rail in St. Petersburg with transfers included.  And believe me, it would be a lot less than you paying for airport parking.  And you saved yourself the stress of getting to the airport on time to catch your flight.
 
Now let’s say you arrived in town and you are here on business.  Or you are here to take in our gorgeous beaches and take it easy.  Instead of the hassle of renting a car or taking a taxi or shuttle, simply hop on board rail transit to get you where you want to go.
 
And if you are staying at one of the many resorts out there on the beaches of the Pinellas Suncoast, you can decide to rent a car later if you would like to explore more.
 
Amtrak:
 
We can’t forget Amtrak here.
 
The last time an Amtrak train served St. Petersburg was in February 1984.  Today Amtrak’s Silver Star serves Tampa’s Union Station twice daily, Train 91 southbound to Miami and Train 92 northbound to New York City.  For those of you in St. Petersburg that want to take a ride on Amtrak, you can either have someone drive you to Tampa or take the bus that runs from the Amtrak ticket office located in a shopping plaza on 110 Av N and US 19 in Pinellas Park.

Now how can we attract Amtrak as another transportation choice in St. Petersburg?  The dedicated rail corridor on the Howard Frankland Bridge would help.  Amtrak service to St. Petersburg can be viable using both a Howard Frankland crossing and the existing CSX Clearwater Subdivision tracks, upgraded to passenger standards.

With that in mind, here are a few Amtrak related ideas as far as a new Howard Frankland rail corridor is concerned:

1.  Connect the existing CSX A Line tracks from Tampa Union Station over to a widened Interstate 275 median.  The widened median is taking shape as a result of the construction underway on Interstate 275 in Tampa from Westshore Blvd. to downtown Tampa, scheduled to be wrapped up in 2016.

2.  Connect and upgrade the track that runs north of the Neve Wye into the Clearwater Subdivision.  That way, Amtrak can run service into St. Petersburg like a serpentine circle and at the same time get rid of that reverse move into Tampa Union Station.

Presently all Amtrak trains serving Tampa Union Station have to be turned at the Neve Wye, a rail spur and turnaround point located east of Ybor City, and backed into the station.  While Tampa is a station stop on the Silver Star, Tampa’s Union Station is what is classified as a stub in facility as opposed to a run through facility as is the case of most railroad stations in the United States.

3.  Increase Amtrak’s frequency of Florida service by having the Silver Star’s partner, the Silver Meteor, serve Tampa instead of bypassing it as it is now.

4.  Both southbound trains can enter the Neve Wye, follow the track to a crossover track to the CSX Clearwater Subdivision, then proceed on that track to a new station stop in St. Petersburg.  Then proceed on the new Howard Frankland rail corridor to Tampa and Tampa Union Station.  After Tampa, proceed southbound to Lakeland, Winter Haven, Sebring and all intermediate points to Miami.

5.  Both northbound trains can stop in Tampa first.  After Tampa follow the new Howard Frankland rail corridor to St. Petersburg and a new station stop.  Then follow the CSX Clearwater Subdivision and over the new crossover track to the Neve Wye and eastbound on the CSX A Line to Kissimmee, Orlando, Jacksonville and points north to New York City.

6.  What about the resurrection of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited as a true cross country transcontinental route?  As you know, the eastern terminus of the Sunset Limited is in New Orleans since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit.  Let’s extend the Sunset Limited back to Florida and make Miami the terminus.  Here’s how it can be done:

East on the CSX line from New Orleans and across Mississippi and Alabama and into Florida at Pensacola.  Continue east to Jacksonville.

At Jacksonville route the Sunset Limited onto the CSX S Line and follow it south via Ocala and Wildwood.  At Dade City use the Vitis Subdivision track (the track that connects Dade City with Lakeland) and turn west onto the CSX A Line towards Tampa.

The Eastbound Sunset Limited can follow the route to St. Petersburg first, then Tampa, and on to Miami.  Likewise, the westbound Sunset Limited can reverse the direction, stopping in Tampa first, then St. Petersburg, then following the Clearwater Subdivision to the S Line north to Jacksonville.

I just wanted to throw in a discussion of Amtrak service and how some ideas for expanded Amtrak service in Florida can become reality thanks to a new Howard Frankland rail corridor.  Granted, Amtrak has good service into Florida with two trains daily but there’s plenty of room for improvement as far as service is concerned.

The Howard Frankland Bridge’s future as a road and rail corridor

Now that the Florida DOT is considering the replacement of the original 1960 Howard Frankland span, the opportunity for improvements including turning the Howard Frankland into a multi purpose road and rail corridor is here.  And it can be done.

I spoke at one of the Florida DOT public hearings on the replacement of the Howard Frankland Bridge not too long ago.  With the exception of a couple of people who spoke at the public hearing, most including me are in agreement that rail based mass transit is the Tampa Bay region’s answer to a good shot in the Tampa/St. Petersburg economic arm.

Rail based mass transit will make the Tampa Bay region competitive with other Florida metropolitan areas.  Rail based mass transit will attract more and more companies to consider moving their headquarters or major operations to our area over Orlando or Miami.

Sure we got Interstate 275.  You can widen it all you want, but that alone won’t help the Tampa Bay region’s mass transit woes.

Sure we have buses.  But buses are subject to the same traffic delays as everyone else, even with so-called “bus rapid transit” when buses exit the dedicated bus lanes to get to their intended destinations.

The framework is here.  That framework is a regional transit authority called the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, or TBARTA for short.  What TBARTA could do is a merger of both PSTA and HART to create a seamless transit service throughout the region.

Imagine one day you live in New Tampa and you want to go to a Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field.  Instead of hopping in your car and driving Interstate 275 to St. Petersburg and paying for parking at Tropicana Field, you can hop on a mixture of light and commuter rail right to the game.

Imagine one day you live in the Gandy area of St. Petersburg and you work in downtown St. Petersburg.  Instead of paying outrageously high parking garage fees downtown, you can hop on the light rail and arrive downtown, refreshed and ready to face the work day.

Imagine one day … when and if light and commuter rail transit is implemented in the Tampa Bay region, the way we move about in the Tampa Bay region will change.

Now that our economy is rebounding, we here in the Tampa Bay region need to seize the opportunity.  And that opportunity is rail based mass transit.
 

Interstate 275 Tampa Mainline Closure Alert

If your travels take you on Interstate 275 going by the Westshore Blvd. interchange (Exit 40A), you need to read this.  I have seen the variable message overhead signs letting motorists know of an upcoming temporary closure on Interstate 275 in Tampa.
 
According to Tampa Bay Interstates (the official source for Tampa Bay area interstate construction from the Florida DOT), the Interstate 275 mainline will be closed at Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) from 11:30 PM Tuesday evening, 20 August 2013 to 5:30 AM Wednesday morning, 21 August 2013.  The mainline closure is being done as part of the mega-reconstruction project taking place on Interstate 275 in Tampa from FL 60 to the Hillsborough River just west of the Ashley/Tampa/Scott interchange complex (Exit 44), which is supposed to be completed sometime in 2016.
 
So, what detour do you follow when the Interstate 275 mainline in Tampa is closed during the above hours?  Here is the detour you should follow, according to Tampa Bay Interstates:
 
Northbound Interstate 275:  You will be directed off at Exit 39 (FL 60). Use the Kennedy Blvd. exit, not the exit for Tampa International Airport.  Follow Kennedy Blvd. east to Westshore Blvd.  At Westshore Blvd. turn north and you can rejoin Interstate 275 northbound there.
 
If you are headed to Tampa International Airport from St. Petersburg, you should not be affected by the upcoming Interstate 275 mainline closure as all traffic will be diverted from the northbound Interstate 275 mainline to the Exit 39 collector-distributor ramp.  However, be sure to allow extra time and leave early, especially if you are headed to TIA to catch your flight.
 
Southbound Interstate 275:  You will be directed off at Exit 40A, Westshore Blvd.  Make a right at Westshore Blvd., then a left at Cypress Street (that’s the first traffic signal after getting off of Interstate 275).  West on Cypress Street until you get to the overpass for FL 60.  Turn left after going under the overpass to rejoin Interstate 275 southbound.
 
Headed to Tampa International Airport from southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa:  You will be directed off at Exit 40A, Westshore Blvd. as mentioned previously.  Instead of going west on Cypress Street, proceed north on Westshore Blvd. until you get to Spruce Street (FL 616).  Left on Spruce Street, but be in your right lane after you make the turn.  Follow the overhead signage to Tampa International Airport.
 
If you are headed to Tampa International Airport to catch an early morning flight, plan ahead and leave early to account for any traffic delays you may encounter on the way.  Additionally, check with your airline for any specifics regarding your flight.
 
Like all major construction projects, sometimes there will be some inconveniences involved but in the end, we will have an Interstate 275 in the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area we can be proud of.


Startup 275 Contest

I came across something Interstate 275 related, not only on a few billboards on Interstate 275 in Tampa as well as a link from Tampa Bay Interstates, the official Florida DOT source for Interstate 275 construction in the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area.  For you commuters out there that make Interstate 275 a part of your commute, here’s a chance for you to have fun and (hopefully) win some prizes!

It’s called Startup 275, and the contest is open to those Interstate 275 commuters who use the section of Interstate 275 in Tampa that is presently undergoing a major reconstruction from FL 60 (Exit 39) to the Hillsborough River just west of the Ashley/Tampa/Scott Street downtown Tampa exit complex (Exit 44).  I know, any construction project will entail major inconveniences here and there but in the end, we will see a newer and better version of Interstate 275 in Tampa that you will enjoy.  In fact, there is room in the center median for the addition of a commuter rail line running down the center of Interstate 275, and having both a widened Interstate 275 plus an operational commuter rail system in our region will mean a major jump start for our region’s economy.

But at least the folks over at Startup 275 are having plenty of fun helping you make the most of your Interstate 275 Tampa commute.  And you can too!

So what are you waiting for?  Head on over to the Startup 275 website today for contest rules, frequently asked questions, and a chance to enter!  Besides, carpooling is good not only for you but for the environment!

By the way, here are some things that you should remember when you head out the door and you are on your way to work from home or vice versa:

1.  Put down that cell phone at all times while you’re behind the wheel.  Florida’s new texting while driving ban goes into effect 1 October 2013.

2.  If you’re the driver, give driving your 100 percent attention.  This is very important while you are transiting the Interstate 275 construction zone in Tampa or any other construction zone for that matter.

3.  Leave in plenty of time so that you can arrive at your destination on time.

4.  55 mph, especially in the construction zone, is indeed 55 mph and not one mph over.  The 5 mph over the speed limit exemption does not apply for construction zones as well as school zones and toll plazas; this means a law enforcement officer can give you a ticket for even 1 mph over the speed limit.

5.  After all, the construction on Interstate 275 in Tampa is a headache.  But when everything is said and done in Fall 2016 you’ll see an Interstate 275 in Tampa which will be much better.