As the title reads, this is a question that I ask myself from time to time. If you reside in the Tampa area, then you likely already know what exactly I am referring to. I am speaking of the wide open median that encompasses much of Interstate 4 from Ybor City going towards the Orlando area. In the next few years, Interstate 275 from downtown Tampa to the Howard Frankland Bridge will also have a much wider median upon completion of the ongoing reconstruction project.
For many years, it was envisioned that some form of rail would eventually fill the these wide medians; whether it be light rail, commuter rail, or even high speed rail. Since the early 2000s at least, high speed rail was planned to eventually run from Tampa to Orlando via the I-4 median, with a possible extension later to St. Pete on the west end, and towards Jacksonville and Miami on the eastern end, eventually being extended up the eastern seaboard.
However; a couple plans for high speed rail in Florida were rejected, most recently in 2010 by Governor Rick Scott, who was heavily concerned that the costs of construction and maintenance would supersede any financial benefit to the state. Although I have always questioned the ridership potential for a high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, I knew that such a line would be beneficial to the state. We must now wait another 2 years at least before we know if we will have another chance at high speed rail.
Commuter rail presents another possibility for these wide open interstate medians. Although it would be practical to utilize existing freight rail lines that run alongside I-4, I can certainly envision a two or three-tracked commuter rail line running the entire length of the I-4 median from Daytona Beach to Tampa and St. Pete. Light rail has also been talked about in recent years, but I strongly believe that light rail in the interstate median is not a good choice. I believe that light rail should remain on surface streets unless it is absolutely necessary to have it run through an interstate median.
Unfortunately, ever since Rick Scott was elected as Florida’s Governor, there has been increased talk about “Managed Lanes” which are basically tolled HOV lanes that would run through the median of various freeways to alleviate congestion during rush hour. These lanes would allow carpooled vehicles and buses to flow freely past gridlocked traffic for a fee. With the state cash-strapped due to the recent recession, the possibility of managed lanes is gradually increasing. In fact, managed lanes already exist in the Miami area along a portion of I-95. And so far, its been a success.
To read up on what exactly managed lanes are, and how they’re already in use in Miami, click here. Although this news article is somewhat dated, it was published in the Tampa Tribune in December of 2011.
So what to you think about all this? Do you think we will ever see rail in the median of I-4 and I-275? Or will these managed lanes eventually take over the state? I invite you to answer my corresponding poll question and comment on this post. I definitely want to hear what you have to say on this matter.
Please know that the poll question will be open for 30 days. After that period has passed, the poll will close.
Have a great week!