TAMPA — Downtown commuters already weary from detours caused by the Platt Street bridge closure will soon have another reason to groan.
CSX Railroad is planning to replace tracks along Polk Street, which will mean intersection closings at Ashley Drive, Florida Avenue and six other streets in the heart of downtown Tampa.
Work on the bridge is expected to end Jan. 16. Three weeks after that, CSX crews will start ripping up track near Polk and Jefferson streets on Feb. 6. The crews will proceed westward down Polk Street over 12 weeks, replacing the rail bed and installing new ties and rails one section at a time, CSX spokesman Gary Sease said.
"We're going to probably do 100-foot sections to minimize disruptions to traffic," he said.
City officials are already bemoaning the impending project. After CSX finishes a section, city workers will need to repair the asphalt approaches alongside the rail crossings. Between the two crews, the intersections could be out of service for a week each.
Then there's the detour plan, which has yet to be developed.
"When you're isolating an intersection that's one thing, but in the downtown it's something else," said Irv Lee, the city's director of maintenance and operations. "You have special events, and the [rush hours] will be significantly affected. That's what we're most concerned about."
So far, officials don't expect the entrance and exit ramps at Ashley Drive and Interstate 275 to be shut down entirely. That means drivers who need to exit or enter the interstate can probably detour down Cass or Tyler streets. Drivers exiting northbound I-275 can avoid Ashley altogether by taking Scott Street.
Either way, downtown commuters are in for some headaches. On average, 30,000 vehicles use Ashley Drive and another 17,000 travel on Florida Avenue each day. Some 13,500 drivers use Tampa Street, according to Department of Transportation traffic reports.
"This is no trivial exercise. It's some pretty critical intersections, and just like anything else, it's going to take some work putting a plan into place," Lee said.
He expects that to happen over the next few weeks.
The rail line was last repaired about 20 years ago, Sease said. It's used almost nightly to transport chemicals, motor oil and phosphate.