Category Archives: Roadway Construction and Closures

Gandy Freeway St. Pete Update

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The damaged retaining wall along the future westbound through lanes of Gandy Blvd is now being dismantled. Credit: HARTride 2012.

Back in January of this year, a fiery tanker accident damaged a section of retaining wall (pictured above) that was being constructed in St. Petersburg, FL, placing its structural integrity into question. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is constructing the retaining wall as part of a decades-delayed freeway project along the median of Gandy Blvd. Because traffic will soon travel along the elevated roadway, the damaged section of wall must be replaced and the soil behind the wall strengthened, otherwise the wall could one day collapse…causing an even bigger mess.

Some commuters may wonder why its taken this long for the repair work to begin. Well, the reason is quite simple really…while work on other parts of the freeway has been allowed to continue, the insurance companies of the involved parties have had to determine who was at fault for the accident, which sometimes can take weeks to determine. Once the at-fault party was determined, that party’s insurance company had to communicate with FDOT as far as the severity of the damage to the roadway and how much the repairs could cost. After all the of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place so to speak, and the claim is resolved, then the funds are paid out so that the repairs can begin. The entire process of settling an insurance claim can often times be very time consuming (believe me…I know a few people who are auto insurance adjusters…it’s not fun at all).

Because of the damage, the entire freeway project has likely been set back somewhat. Hopefully though, the new roadway can still open sometime in 2017. Once it does open, several Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus routes will be able to flow more smoothly…along with the rest of the traffic in the area.

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Two-way conversion project on Cass/Tyler could impact downtown Tampa HART bus routes

You may have heard it through the local media outlets, a project to convert Cass and Tyler streets in northern downtown Tampa from their current one-way configurations to a two-way layout is getting underway, and this undertaking could result in numerous Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus routes being impacted by the construction, especially at night – when lane and road closures are more likely.

The project to convert these two streets into a two-way layout is part of the broader InVision Tampa plan, which aims at creating a livable urban space within downtown Tampa and surrounding areas. A buffered bicycle trail will also be included in this project, and will run the entire length of Cass from Nebraska Ave to at least the eastern merge point of Cass and Tyler. There is also a separate project at the western merge point of Cass and Tyler, by the Straz Center, that will radically transform the two streets. That project is the planned Arts and Entertainment Residences tower, slated to begin in the not-so-distant future.

During the time of construction, HART customers should pay close attention to their commutes. Although daytime trips may not be heavily impacted, evening trips will likely be detoured at times when roads need to closed, and will thus add on to travel times. Since the project crosses the Marion St Transitway, night time routes like the 2, 19, and 30 may temporarily be detoured. Any route detour or other such interruption will be announced by HART as early as possible. However, I strongly suggest that you sign up for HyperAlert email/text services if you ride any of the affected routes, as there will be notifications sent out when buses are on detour.

To make things easier in viewing which HART routes could be impacted by the Cass/Tyler project, I’ve created a Google Map that outlines the major transit corridors through the affected area of downtown Tampa. If you spot any inaccuracies, please let me know right away.

Changes to SB I-275 through WestShore

This upcoming Friday evening, a huge traffic alignment shift is scheduled to occur, weather permitting. All southbound lanes of I-275 between the I-4 junction and State Road 60 will be closed beginning at 11:30pm Friday night. Those lanes should begin to reopen, along the new alignment, around 5:30am.

During this time, all traffic will be detoured off I-275 SB and I-4 WB at the downtown exit ramps. Commuters will be directed to Kennedy Blvd, where they can reconnect to I-275 past WestShore Plaza, or any of the cross roads that intersect with the highway (Lois, Dale Mabry, or Howard/Armenia).

Alternatively, commuters from the north can use the Hillsborough Ave or MLK exits from SB I-275 to connect to Armenia or Dale Mabry. For those connecting to Lois, commuters can alternatively use the Floribraska exit, then connect to Columbus Dr via Tampa St. For those coming from I-4, commuters can either use Hillsborough Ave or connect to the Selmon toll road.

When the new alignment of SB I-275 opens up on Saturday, weather permitting, the new WestShore Blvd exit ramp will open, allowing HART Route 61LX outbound from downtown to resume routing.

For a unique perspective on the I-275 construction, I invite you to visit the I-275 Florida Blog.

No relief in sight for clogged Gandy Blvd in Tampa

Let’s face it, Gandy Blvd in Tampa is just too clogged. Traffic routinely backs up for miles during rush hour, and despite plans for either a bypass expressway or an elevated structure being planned for the last two decades at least, nothing has materialized.

There is currently no funding available for construction, nor will there be funding available for at least another decade, unless Governor Scott throws in a Hail Mary at the last minute. Even then, studies would have to be updated, which alone could take up to five years. Then you have the ongoing rash of “Not in my backyard) opposition from area residents and business owners, who fear any expressway or elevated structure would cause excessive noise, plummeting property values, and dire loss of business traffic. YET, a WalMart SuperCenter was allowed to be built along the very same stretch of road in 2010 with very little community opposition. Now that’s just messed up.

So what can be done about this problem? Well, unless we have money, there really isn’t a lot that can be done. The past proposals for a bypass expressway are dead due to the need to acquire land that today has either been built up or has been otherwise purchased by private developers. And the elevated structure plan faces continual community opposition, as I just mentioned. Light rail would be nice, but that too costs money, and you’d have double the opposition…not just from area residents and business owners, but also from No Tax For Tracks and the rest if the Tea Party anti-transit folks.

Unless as I mentioned, Governor Scott throws in a last minute Hail Mary, don’t expect anything significant to happen with the Tampa stretch of Gandy for at least another 10 years…

Ultimate I-4 in Orlando begins

In the back passenger seat looking back as my family traveled down I-4 near downtown Orlando in 2008. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. August, 2008.
In the back passenger seat looking back as my family traveled down I-4 near downtown Orlando in 2008. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. August, 2008.

It’s the 1st of February, and what is to be one of the largest infrastructure projects in Central Florida to date…is officially kicking off. That’s right, the construction phase of the Ultimate I-4 project is officially underway according to various news outlets throughout the state. The project will bring forth roughly six years of construction headaches as the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) completely rebuilds interchanges throughout the thoroughfare from Kirkman Rd to State Road 434. In addition to rebuilding key interchanges, lanes will be added to the highway, including two Tolled Express Lanes in each direction.

Project Information

FDOT has the latest project information on the I-4 Ultimate web site. You will want to check into this site periodically for updates throughout the project’s duration. As of right now, you shouldn’t expect too much to change in your daily commute, but as February comes to a close, you will likely begin seeing some major lane shifts and closures, as well as tons of overnight and weekend work. If you have not yet planned out alternative routes in the event things get real bad on I-4, NOW is the time to do so.

Escape the construction mess! Use Transit!

For those of you who ARE ABLE TO USE SunRail, but haven’t started; NOW is the time to purchase your SunCard and make sure that there is enough balance. SunRail provides fast and easy connections with the LYNX bus system, which will allow you to not only save time and hassle versus driving on I-4, but also save on gas. Even though gas prices are at its lowest levels in years, many analysts are predicting that we’ve hit rock bottom, and that those prices are going to climb right back up in the next few months. Making these preparations now will save you tons of headaches down the road. If you’re not able to use SunRail or Lynx, that’s okay, there are other options such as carpooling, vanpooling, and even telecommuting (if your employer allows for it). If you aren’t sure where to start, in terms of planning out your commute, FDOT’s Re-Think service may be able to help!

Safety is top priority

If you choose to traverse I-4 during construction, you’ll want to keep a close eye out on lane shifts, closures, and reduced speed limits, as well as any ramp closures and associated detours. You can bet that the Florida Highway Patrol will have an increased presence during the construction phase as well, so don’t risk yourself getting a ticket, it’s not fun or cheap. Even worse, is getting into an accident because you didn’t pay attention to the roadway ahead of you.

Conclusion

So I will repeat, prepare NOW for the next six years of headaches along I-4 as the Ultimate reconstruction project rolls along. If you can use SunRail, then please do. If you can’t, then please spread the word to all those you know who can use SunRail. SunRail is currently at a pivotal moment by which we need to fight even harder for more evening, midday, and weekend service. Right now, SunRail does not run on the weekends, and the I-4 construction will continue around the clock, so if you hate having to drive I-4 on the weekends, then I hope that you will consider supporting the SunRail Riders in their mission to bring weekend rail service so that commuters have an alternative transit option seven days a week.

Happy 1st Birthday I-4/Selmon Connector!

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.

Today marks a huge milestone in Tampa Bay when it comes to the area’s highways and byways; the first anniversary of the opening of the Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector!

The roughly one-mile elevated connector opened one year ago today, and a very foggy day it was too. But nonethless, it marked the beginning of the end of cargo traffic having to meander through historic Ybor City to reach Port Tampa Bay. The connector project was first conceived since the 1990s and began construction in 2010. Today, the highway sees more than 30,000 vehicles per day, with the projection of that growing to over 50,000 a day by 2035. About 90 percent of traffic using the connector comprises of personal vehicles, box trucks, and other single axle vehicles, though the Florida Department of Transportation expects the number of semi trucks and other multi-axle vehicles to rise over the next few years.

Even though, the highway is tolled, many people have chosen the connector for its time savings, and what a time savings it can be when trying to battle it out through the I-4/I-275 junction in the morning. In fact, this past fall, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) decided to reroute the morning trip for one of its limited stop bus routes from going through the downtown junction to the year-old connector in an effort to keep buses on time. Additionally, commuters needing a signal-free fast track from Brandon to Tampa International Airport can use the connector to bypass downtown streets. This particular commute is expected to speed up further once construction along I-275 through WestShore is completed in 2016.

Over the next several months, construction will take place along 22nd and 21st Streets in Ybor City, to narrow traffic lanes and create a more pedestrian friendly environment. Once this project is finished, FDOT will transfer control of these roadways to the City of Tampa, which plans to out right ban all cargo truck traffic along the routes.

The Interstate 275/Interstate 4 Interchange – Incomplete

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!

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

FYI: Davis Island Bridge Work

Good Monday Morning everyone! I just heard from Chuck Henson at Bay News 9 that the City of Tampa will begin work on the water main that is situated beneath the northbound span of the Davis Island Bridge this week. This project is scheduled for completion in October, 2013. During this time, there will be intermittent lane closures, and the northbound off-ramp to northbound Bayshore Blvd may also be closed at times. Drivers will be detoured to Plant Ave and Platt St when this off-ramp is closed.

For HART Bus Route 19 and 46 Commuters: You should continue your daily commute per normal during this time, as the bridge will remain open at all times. Buses may be slightly delayed at times, but hopefully nothing more than five minutes. If you have any questions regarding your bus commute, please call HART Customer Service at (813)-254-4278.

Managed Lanes coming to I-4 in Orlando…what it means for Tampa.

Greetings everyone!

In a past blog post, I mentioned how the use of “Managed Lanes” were being discussed throughout the state of Florida and how they’re already in use in Miami. On February 2, 2013, the Florida Department of Transportation unveiled reconstruction plans for Interstate 4 through downtown Orlando which is poised to include the construction of “Managed Lanes” in the center of the highway. Early estimates have the cost of using these lanes at 15 cents per mile, which would increase during rush hour periods. The cost of the project is currently set at $2.1 billion and is slated to begin sometime in 2015, once funding is secured.

Continue reading Managed Lanes coming to I-4 in Orlando…what it means for Tampa.