Back in 2003, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) embarked on a project to redo the many ramps of the Interstate 275/Interstate 4 interchange in downtown Tampa, known for years as Malfunction Junction. Among those improvements were a separation of southbound ramps towards downtown Tampa from thru traffic, as well as widening existing thru lanes, and rebuilding the flyover from southbound I-275 to eastbound I-4.
Although much of the interchange flows a lot better than what how it used to prior to 2006, a sore spot remains the aforementioned flyover. The terrible mistake that FDOT made when rebuilding the interchange was that the flyover was only built with one lane, which causes monumental backups during rush hour. The replacement flyover should have clearly been built to accommodate two lanes so that traffic could flow more freely. Just look at how FDOT later constructed the flyover at the I-75 interchange at Bruce B. Downs Blvd. That flyover was striped for one lane, but can handle two if capacity needs warrants it.
Another sore spot is the two southbound thru lanes on I-275. Those lanes were never increased and there seems to be no accommodation for a third thru lane underneath the flyovers leading from I-4 onto I-275 south and downtown. During rush hour, those lanes back up severely as well. All the while, two Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) express bus routes; 20X and 51X, are consistently running the risk of being substantially delayed because of these backups.
From what I’ve learned over the years, FDOT was only able to address the most dangerous aspect of the interchange and work on resolving those due to limited funding. However, I strongly feel that FDOT could have done a lot better on reconstructing the interchange to be able to accommodate future expansion. For example, the flyover from southbound I-275 to eastbound I-4 could have at least included accommodations to add a second lane if need-be. There also needs to be accommodations for those wonderful express lanes that they plan on adding later on. There seems to be nowhere at all to put them, unless they plan to wipe out all those homes on the fringe of the interchange.
For any such work to take place at the interchange, commuters will have to wait at least five years, if not longer, before construction on this subsequent project even begins. As I will talk about in my next No New Funding (equals) post, many roadway projects across the nation could become stalled or cancelled if Washington doesn’t act on renewing and increasing federal funds for transportation. Also, as of now, the ongoing construction along I-275 through West Tampa and WestShore is slated for completion by sometime in 2016. Once that is finished, some traffic headaches should be able to be resolved.
Nonetheless, FDOT should have done better planning and execution of the 2003 project to avoid having to return to the interchange 15 to 20 years later and do everything over again. Then again…can we really continue to expand highways like this? Maybe all of our interstates will be 20-laned behemoths like parts of California are experiencing. Or even worse, maybe some sections will even be double-deckered like the former Ebarcadero Freeway that existed in San Francisco prior to the Loma Prieta earthquake. This is one key reason why better transit options are needed for Tampa Bay…and needed NOW!