Sunday, November 19, 2017
Transportation

I-275 paving job in Tampa gets into a jam

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It was supposed to be an overnight resurfacing job.

Work would begin late Saturday on two northbound lanes of Interstate 275, just east of the Howard Frankland Bridge, and be done early Sunday. Minimal traffic disruption.

At least, that was the plan.

The asphalt was late. Work went past schedule. When the road finally reopened, the new surface was torn up by traffic. The lanes were closed again.

The result has been monstrous traffic jams more resembling a natural disaster or evacuation than a lane closure.

Backups on the Howard Frankland have had a domino effect. In the middle of the day Sunday, eastbound Gandy Bridge traffic was bumper-to-bumper and moving at a snail's pace as motorists tried to get around the mess on the Howard Frankland. Even the normally smooth Crosstown Expressway was jammed.

"It's just kind of a bad perfect storm,'' said Florida Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey.

Such a storm, in fact, that it was a topic on Sunday's telecast of the Tampa Bay Rays game, with Rays president Matt Silverman apologizing to Rays fans who got caught up in the mess on their way back to Hillsborough County.

It took Rays' manager Joe Maddon an hour and half to get home, Silverman said.

Under the original plan, the Department of Transportation gave contractors Skanska/Ajax about 11 hours — from 9 p.m. Saturday until 8 a.m. Sunday — to resurface two outside lanes in the northbound direction of the interstate.

They first closed one northbound lane, then a second, keeping three lanes open.

But problems emerged.

McShaffrey said contractors didn't have enough trucks to get materials to the site in time or the trucks were running late. He said it was also possible that the original window for construction was just too narrow.

Whatever the case, it was clear by Sunday morning the original schedule wouldn't hold.

Contractors had smoothed enough of the road that they could not quit, but not so much that it was safe for drivers, he said.

"You get to a point where you have to keep going until it's done," McShaffrey said.

The DOT reopened all lanes at 3 p.m., but by 5:15 p.m. the right lane of northbound 275 was closed again. McShaffrey said the shoulder under the new layer of asphalt was insufficient, causing the road to come apart. "Obviously with potholes developing at high speeds, you can't have traffic running over that," McShaffrey said.

The schedule was revised. All lanes were expected to open by 5:30 a.m. Monday, which would have mostly avoided morning traffic. But they did not open until 7 a.m., delaying morning commuters. Almost immediately afterward, accidents began piling up on the already-burdened traffic flow and made for a sticky commute.

Traffic began moving smoothly until about noon, when, again, a lane was closed between State Road 60 and Lois Avenue. Both lanes were opened again about 3:30 p.m. and traffic seemed to be moving slowly at that time.

McShaffrey said more repairs were likely overnight Monday.

Strong winds and an 80 percent chance of rain are forecast for today, an outlook that could further hinder road work.

Claire Wiseman can be reached at [email protected] or (727)-893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.

 
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