Updated DOT plan confirms Howard Frankland Bridge won't lose a free lane
TAMPA — The Howard Frankland Bridge of the future will retain all four existing free lanes in each direction, Florida Department of Transportation officials told Tampa leaders Thursday.
Bill Jones, the recently hired director of transportation development for DOT’s local office, told Tampa City Council members at a community redevelopment area meeting that the state has devised a new plan for rebuilding the northbound span of the main bridge connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Unlike a previous version that faced harsh political blowback last fall, this plan will not convert an existing free lane to a toll lane, leaving just three free lanes on the northbound and southbound spans.
“The recommended concept has changed,” Jones said, “and we are now having four non-toll lanes in either direction as well as the express lanes on the Howard Frankland Bridge.”
The department will hold a public hearing to review the plan sometime this spring, he said.
Jones is now the local lead on Tampa Bay Express, the state’s $6-billion plan to add 90 miles of toll lanes to Interstates 275, 75 and 4, rebuild the northbound span of the Howard Frankland and revamp the downtown and West Shore interchanges. He replaced Debbie Hunt, who previously oversaw the project but resigned in November.
Jones echoed DOT Secretary Jim Boxold’s call to hit the “reset button” on TBX. Some community members and local politicians have complained that it's a vague term that doesn’t mean much, but Jones said it’s a promise from the state to engage more with the community before moving forward with new plans.
“The reset implies a new approach and focus to delivering a comprehensive transportation vision that meets the needs of the Tampa Bay region” Jones said. “A key tenet of the reset will be enhanced collaboration with the Tampa Bay community.”
DOT has also received federal funding to take part in a peer exchange with Missouri’s DOT, which led to an award-winning outreach program on a similar interstate widening project. DOT officials will travel to St. Louis this year, likely in the spring.
Jones said the DOT is also in the process of completing a supplemental environmental impact statement that will identify changes in the community and environmental impacts since TBX was first approved 20 years ago.
DOT program management administrator Ed McKinney also delivered a presentation on the possibility of elevating the toll lanes as part of TBX. However, McKinney said DOT does not recommend that alternative, because it would require more right of way than the current version.
“We do not feel an elevated structure would be a feasible alternative,” McKinney said.