TAMPA — An early-morning lane change because of construction near Memorial Highway and State Road 60 caused significant delays during Monday's rush hour.
As part of the Tampa Airport interchange project's construction, drivers traveling south on Memorial or east on State Road 60 between the Courtney Campbell Parkway and Cypress Street must now exit left toward Spruce Street and the Tampa International Airport, said John McShaffrey, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation. McShaffrey said two bridges — one from the right exit to the airport and another across SR 60 to Spruce Street — are under construction.
But despite announcements and signs about the impending shift, cars moved sluggishly down the freeway in a muddle of confusion, said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Gaskins.
"The word's been put out there. They've had signs for a good week," Gaskins said, referring to the Florida Transportation Department's notifications. "People are confused, but it's not because of a lack trying on their (the department's) part."
McShaffrey said there was about a 45-minute delay through the area Monday morning, but traffic should return to normal in about a week as drivers become familiar with the new setup. There are five signs for drivers coming from the Veterans Expressway and three signs coming from the Courtney Campbell that note the change. The speed limit through the construction zone has also been lowered to 40 mph.
"It's heavily congested normally, and then you throw a change at people. People are creatures of habit," McShaffrey said. "The first day is always the worst."
The afternoon rush isn't usually as heavy going that direction, McShaffrey said, and traffic began to flow better from the late morning through the afternoon. He said the Transportation Department might make some adjustments on sign wording or placement based on today's experiences.
So here's the bottom line: If you're going to Interstate 275 or continuing on SR 60 to Kennedy Boulevard, stay in the right lanes. If you're headed to the airport or toward Spruce Street, bear left.
The airport exit should return to the right side in three to four weeks, McShaffrey said. The Spruce Street exit will go back to the right side by December or early January. He said the entire project should be done by early 2010.