Expect massive delays in Tampa this weekend along northbound Interstate 275 as transportation officials shift traffic to the newly constructed northbound lanes.
How massive? Backed up into Pinellas County massive.
The Florida Department of Transportation says serious traffic jams along the busy thoroughfare should begin at 9 p.m. today and continue through 5:30 a.m. Monday.
"Stay away," DOT spokesman John McShaffrey pleaded Thursday. "It's going to be bad out there."
While the beginning of the work week will bring some relief, there is more bad news: A portion of I-275 will be restricted to 45 mph until this fall.
And the construction is sure to aggravate weekend concertgoers. Jimmy Buffett is scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Saturday and Nickelback at 7 p.m. Sunday, both at the Ford Amphitheater northeast of the construction off Interstate 4.
DOT says you should add at least an hour to your planned commute if you're determined to take the interstate.
Here's how it will go:
8 p.m. today to 8 a.m. Saturday:
• The Dale Mabry Highway entrance ramp to northbound I-275 will be closed. Drivers should use Lois Avenue or Howard Avenue to enter northbound I-275.
Starting at 9 p.m. today:
• One or two of the three lanes will close on northbound I-275 from Lois Avenue (Exit 40B) to Ashley Drive/Scott Street (Exit 44).
• The Ashley Drive/Scott Street exit ramps (Exit 44) will alternately be closed until 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Traffic will be detoured to whichever of the two ramps is open at the time.
Early morning Saturday:
• Traffic will be shifted to the new I-275 northbound lanes. Only two lanes will be open until about 5:30 a.m. Monday.
• The Dale Mabry entrance ramp to northbound I-275 will reopen early Saturday morning.
The DOT expects additional backups along nearby local east-west roads such as Columbus Drive, Kennedy Boulevard and Cypress Street. Motorists are encouraged to use alternate routes, avoiding I-275 northbound.
By Monday morning, traffic is expected to be flowing on the new alignment in three lanes.
But don't get too excited.
The lanes will be narrower than usual and shoulders will be skimpy from Willow Avenue to west of the Ashley Drive exit. Lanes that normally measure 12 feet could be as small as 11 feet. Trucks will be instructed to use the lone 12-foot center lane. And shoulders that usually stretch to 12 feet will be just 5 feet.
You may not think that means much, but here's how it affects you: 45 mph speed limits along that stretch until the widening is completed in the fall.
The Himes Avenue entrance ramp, closed since December, also is expected to open to traffic Monday.
Despite the inconvenience, DOT promises one day the changes will make your commuting life better.
When all is said and done, I-275 from Himes to the Hillsborough River will be four to five lanes, up from three and four lanes.
McShaffrey said the current project, part of a decade-long effort to significantly widen the highway corridor from the Howard Frankland Bridge to the Hillsborough River, is expected to be completed in early 2010.
After that, look for two more major projects on I-275, pegged for completion in 2018:
Rebuilding the highway in both directions from Veterans Highway to Himes Boulevard and revamping the southbound interstate from the Hillsborough River to Himes Avenue.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.