Just…what if? Re-routing HART Route 51X along the I-4/Selmon Connector

With the new Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector now open to traffic, something came to mind back in late December, 2013, that I think Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) should take a look into, although it may never come to reality. What I think HART should examine is the possibility of re-routing Route 51X to run along the new connector highway from I-4 to the Selmon Expressway, then into downtown to connect to the Marion St Transitway during the morning rush.

Currently, Route 51X operates in a rather oddball manner, compared to most express routes. The northernmost portion runs from the Victorious Life Church Park-and-Ride Lot at State Rd 54 in Pasco County. The route then travels along portions of SR 54, Cypress Creek Rd, and County Line Rd. The route then connects to the Crossroads Community United Methodist Church Park-anb-Ride Lot before proceeding to Bruce B. Downs Blvd.

Once on Bruce B. Downs Blvd, Route 51X makes a third major stop at the Lowes Park-and-Ride Lot on Bruce B. Downs Blvd, just west of I-75. From there, the route splits into two segments between this Park-and-Ride Lot and downtown Tampa. In the mornings, buses proceed down southbound I-75 to westbound I-4 to proceed into downtown and the Marion St Transitway. In the afternoon, buses exit the Marion St Transitway and travel northbound along I-275 to the Bearss Ave exit, then travel along Bearss Ave and Bruce B. Downs Blvd to the Lowes Park-N-Ride Lot.

Confused? Take a look at HART’s map of the current Route 51X.

Why the deviation in morning and afternoon routes? Because traffic is so heavy along I-275 southbound in the morning that it would heavily delay morning trips. This is mainly due to the I-4/I-275 junction still not functioning as it should be after its 2003 reconstruction project, as well as congestion caused by inefficiencies with I-275 west of Downtown. The latter, I hope will be fixed when the downtown to WestShore segment reconstruction is completed in 2016, but I won’t hold my breath on that. In fact, HART’s Route 20X is consistently having to deal with these morning delays along I-275 during the morning rush.

For those not familiar with HART Route 51X, the route was implemented in November, 2005 as an effort to bring riders into downtown Tampa from parts of Pasco County. This addition was part of HART’s Commuter Express system initiative. Route 51X was specifically implemented to target Wesley Chapel customers and has seen modest ridership since its implementation. Do you recall the interim Purple People Eater livery that was painted on 2005 and 2006-series buses? Yep, that was done originally for the Commuter Express re-branding of HART’s express routes.

Click here to view a map showing what I think the AM route should look like.

Now, what if HART brought the morning segment of Route 51X from its current routing along I-4 from 34th St to I-275, to instead run along the I-4/Selmon Connector highway, to Exit 7 of the Selmon Expressway? Buses would be able to still use the Marion St Transitway, but would enter the transitway from the south instead of the north. I think that in the long run, it would be able to shave a few minutes off commute times and avoid any headaches of the I-275/I-4 junction during the morning rush.

Will this happen?

Probably not. From what I’ve heard, HART prefers to have many of its express routes connect to the Marion Transit Center first, before traversing down the Marion St Transitway, because not all express bus riders work in downtown. Some customers use the express routes to connect to local routes in the area via the MTC, so altering a route like 51X could actually result in the loss of ridership, which definitely would not be worth the changeover. With that said, will the connector be used for future express routes? Absolutely! There’s no doubt in my mind that with additional funding, HART probably would consider adding a couple express routes that would use the connector regularly.

With all this said, enjoy your day!

HARTride 2012

The I-4/Selmon Expressway Connector is NOW OPEN!

Interstate 4 going eastbound at Exit 2, which is now dedicated to the newly opened I-4/Selmon Expressway Connector. The new elevated highway opened to traffic on Monday, January 6, 2014. Exit 2 along I-4 was originally an exit to 40th St. However, that exit was permanently removed during interstate reconstruction during the early/mid 2000s to accommodate the new connector. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. January 7, 2014.
Interstate 4 going eastbound at Exit 2, which is now dedicated to the newly opened I-4/Selmon Expressway Connector. The new elevated highway opened to traffic on Monday, January 6, 2014. Exit 2 along I-4 was originally an exit to 40th St. However, that exit was permanently removed during interstate reconstruction during the early/mid 2000s to accommodate the new connector. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. January 7, 2014.

Happy Wednesday everyone! I have some excellent news for those of you who frequent Tampa’s busy freeway and toll road system! A wonderful New Year’s gift if I may say!

Overview

On the morning of Monday, January 6, 2013, the highly anticipated Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector opened to traffic! The roughly one-mile elevated highway is located above the CSX rail line corridor that runs along 31st St, just east of Downtown Tampa. The highway has actually been on state planning books since the 1980s, but was pushed to the forefront in the mid to late 1990s when state and local officials realized that Tampa’s continual growth, coupled with increasing freight truck traffic through the historic Ybor City district, were facilitating a greater need for the highway to be constructed.

One key purpose of the I-4/Selmon Connector is to remove freight truck traffic from 21st and 22nd Streets, which run through the heart of the historic Ybor City district. Over the years, large trucks have caused tons of wear and tear on both streets, creating tons and tons of potholes and rough surfaces. Many trucks often carry hazardous materials (i.e. fuels, chemicals), which posed a serious threat to the many historic buildings within Ybor. Literally one accident involving a hazardous cargo truck could very have caused a monumental disaster for the entire area!

The other key purpose of the I-4/Selmon Connector is to create free-flowing, high-speed traffic routes between major parts of Hillsborough County, which in-turn, provides for an additional hurricane evacuation route. For safety reasons, directional movement is restricted and separated. Commuters travelling from eastbound I-4 to eastbound Selmon are physically separated from those travelling from westbound I-4 to westbound Selmon. Truck traffic going to and from the Port of Tampa have access to both directions of I-4.

Click here to view a map of the connector’s general location.

  • One can now travel between South Tampa/MacDill AFB to Lakeland, Orlando, Daytona Beach, and other points northeastward without exiting off in Downtown Tampa, or travelling up I-75. One can also travel between South Tampa/MacDill AFB to New Tampa and USF without travelling along I-275 (thus avoiding all of the I-275 construction projects and Malfunction Junction).
  • One can now travel from St. Petersburg and central Pinellas County to New Tampa, USF, Lakeland, Orlando, Daytona Beach, and other points northeastward by using Gandy Blvd and the Selmon Expressway instead of I-275 (thus avoiding all of the I-275 construction projects and Malfunction Junction).
  • One can now travel between Tampa International Airport and Brandon (Falkenburg Rd or Brandon Pkwy) without ever encountering a traffic signal.
  • One can now travel between northern Pinellas County (or northwestern Hillsborough County) and Southeastern Hillsborough County without having to jog all the way up I-75 to connect with I-4, then jog back south to connect to I-275.

The above are just four cris-crossing points. There are more points of interest that you can now easily access without ever getting off an exit in between highways.

Traveling in the eastbound direction of the I-4/Selmon Connector towards the toll gantry. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. January 7, 2014.
Traveling in the eastbound direction of the I-4/Selmon Connector towards the toll gantry. Photo taken by HARTride 2012. January 7, 2014.

The Tolls

Now keep in mind that the I-4/Selmon Connector is a toll road! There are no manned toll plazas along the highway, as such are being gradually phased out nationwide. Instead, FDOT has installed an overhead gantry (which frankly looks like traditional toll plaza) just north of the Selmon Expressway junction that collects tolls automatically. If you travel along the Selmon regularly, or reside in the Orlando or Miami areas and have used some of their toll roads, then you know exactly what I speak of.

The cost of travelling the new connector will greatly vary by which direction you’re travelling. If you use a SunPass transponder, then you’re entitled to the 25 cent discount that you get when you travel other state toll roads. If you frequent any of Florida’s toll roads, getting a SunPass is your best bet when it comes to travelling the new connector! If you don’t have a SunPass (especially if you’re travelling from out of state, or are an occasional toll road commuter), then don’t worry, you can still use the connector via “We Bill You” or Toll-by-Plate (as the program is officially called). With Toll-by-Plate, cameras take a photo of your license plate and the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise sends you a bill in the mail. Please know that with Toll-by-Plate, there is a $2.50 administrative charge (which goes to operational expenses associated with operating the Toll-by-Plate program).

Here’s the full breakdown of toll fees, as set by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

  • Eastbound I-4 to Eastbound Selmon (S-Movement):
    • $1.25 – “We Bill You”/Toll-by-Plate
    • $1.00 – SunPass
  • Westbound I-4 to Westbound Selmon (Z-Movement):
    • $0.75 – “We Bill You”/Toll-by-Plate
    • $0.50 – SunPass
  • Truck traffic, regardless of direction (T-Movement):
    • $1.25 – “We Bill You”/Toll-by-Plate
    • $1.00 – SunPass
      • FLAT RATE FOR ALL PORT OF TAMPA TRAFFIC! (All trucks going to the Port of Tampa will pay the fees above regardless of how many axles the truck has)
  • Click here for a PDF Document of the full toll schedule from FDOT (including tolls for vehicles with more than 2 axles).

SPECIAL NOTES

  • Orlando’s E-Pass and LeeWay transponders are also accepted along Florida’s toll roads, including the I-4/Selmon Connector.
  • North Carolina’s QuickPass recently rolled out inter-operability with SunPass transponders (and vice-versa), so that customers from both states can use each other’s toll roads without having to worry about purchasing separate systems.
  • Plans are currently in the works to bring forth similar agreements with other transportation authorities by 2016. This includes an eventual agreement with the EZ-Pass Consortium, which operates transponder systems in the Northeastern US.

Watch your speed!

Please watch your speed as you travel along the connector, ESPECIALLY ALONG THE ENTRY/EXIT RAMPS! The ramps over I-4 curve somewhat sharply, so the advised travel speed along these ramps are 30-MPH. Also use extra caution when entering westbound I-4, as the acceleration lane abruptly ends, and the entry ramp is situated on the left. These left-hand ramps will ultimately be modified should FDOT build managed lanes along several segments of I-4 and I-275, as well as I-75. The eventual addition of managed lanes will also lead to the construction of four additional ramps from the connector to I-4.

The Selmon Reversible Express Lanes (the Upper Deck) DOES NOT ALLOW ACCESS TO THE CONNECTOR! Graphic generated by Kurumi.com's SignMaker Program (then modified in Microsoft Paint).
The Selmon Reversible Express Lanes (the Upper Deck) DOES NOT ALLOW ACCESS TO THE CONNECTOR! Graphic generated by Kurumi.com’s SignMaker Program (the graphic was then modified in Microsoft Paint).

No Reversible Express Lane access to the connector!

Another thing that I want to stress is that the Upper Deck of the Selmon (also known as the Reversible Express Lanes, or REL) DOES NOT PROVIDE ACCESS TO THE CONNECTOR! Because the REL was designed specifically for traffic travelling between Brandon and Downtown Tampa, there were no provisions made for these lanes to connect to I-4. The only provision to the REL that was made for the connector’s construction is the at-grade section of the REL between 26th St and 39th St (to facilitate construction of the flyover ramps). Commuters wishing to connect to I-4 MUST USE the Lower Deck (or Local Lanes) of the Selmon.

However, commuters coming from Brandon in the mornings can still use the Brandon Parkway feeders and then transition over to the Local Lanes via the slip ramp just west of US 301. And vice-versa, afternoon commuters can enter the Brandon Parkway feeders by using the slip ramp just west of US 301.

Helpful Links

Below, I’ve listed some helpful links by which you can learn more info about Florida’s Toll-by-Plate Program, as well as SunPass, and other related stuff.

Disclaimer

The photos showcased in this post were all taken by HARTride 2012 (website admin) under safe driving conditions. As you can see from the photos, traffic was extremely light along the highway.

With that said, please keep in mind to exercise safe driving habits and be courteous to other drivers out on the roads. Also, PLEASE NO TEXTING AND DRIVING! Florida, Virginia, and many other states now have laws in place that legally prohibit texting while driving. You don’t want to get into a wreck just because of a text message! They can wait!

Be safe and enjoy your day!

HARTride 2012