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.
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!