ST. PETERSBURG — Whatever replaces the aging northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, it will be able to accommodate light rail or express bus service in the future, state transportation officials said Tuesday.
Whether they'll build it into their plans is still in question.
At a public hearing in St. Petersburg on Tuesday night, officials with the Florida Department of Transportation listened to residents on what the new span crossing Tampa Bay should look like. Built in 1959, the span is structurally tired and officials have put forward several scenarios for its replacement.
In the agency's "recommended" plan, it would swap out the aging structure with one that looks very much like it — a new, four-lane bridge. It would leave room for what officials call "transit envelopes," or spaces where more roadway could be built to carry express buses, rail or tolled express lanes.
Another configuration would have the FDOT building rail guideways onto both the southbound and northbound spans, while another would run rail and bus service in between the spans.
Replacing the northbound span, as is, would cost about $390 million. Building express lanes would add about $339 million to the cost. A mass transit guideway would add $989 million.
"Beefing up" the structure so it could support light rail or other mass transit would add $25 million to the cost, said Ming Gao, the project's planning manager.
"The way we're going to build it, it's going to be flexible enough to accommodate light rail," he said.
But before the agency begins the project, which is still waiting for funding, transportation officials want to know what Pinellas and Hillsborough are planning. Pinellas is likely to ask residents to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase in 2014 for light rail. Voters in Hillsborough struck down a similar referendum in 2010.
"Both sides need to come together to make a decision," Gao said.
State officials plan to submit their proposal to federal transportation officials by the end of this year.
A dozen people spoke in favor of adding light rail or express lanes for bus rapid transit.
Phil Compton, who lives in Tampa and works for the Sierra Club in St. Petersburg, said it took him 90 minutes to get from his house to Tropicana Field on Monday to see the Rays play the Red Sox. He missed the first inning.
"We don't want to wait another 20, 30 or 40 years to be able to get across the bay in a way that doesn't involve driving a car in the worst traffic in the United States," he said.
"It's not very often that we're in agreement with the Sierra Club," joked Alex Glenn, the president of Duke Energy's utility operations in Florida. "We shouldn't kill any of our options, whether it's bus rapid transit or light rail on the bridge."
Two people spoke against the inclusion of light rail.
"What happened in Hillsborough with the referendum, I forecast is going to happen here also," said Barbara Haselden, a light rail opponent. "So I hope you don't make a commitment on a bridge when there's not going to be a light rail system here in Pinellas County."