Thursday, February 22, 2018
Transportation

Closing Dale Mabry exit from I-275 expected to create backups, frustration

TAMPA — When the state shuts one of the busiest exits off Interstate 275 late Tuesday, drivers, businesses and neighborhoods expect to be in for months of pain.

Motorists use the Dale Mabry Highway exit off southbound I-275 to get to Raymond James Stadium, Hillsborough Community College, shopping centers — and, of course, home.

"For the next four months, it's going to be a madhouse," said Macfarlane Park Association and Neighborhood Watch president Guido Maniscalco.

He said elderly members of his association in West Tampa plan to avoid the area altogether.

Although the I-275 construction project has been going on for two years, the Florida Department of Transportation didn't finalize plans to close the southbound Exit 41A/B until May 16.

The agency first spoke with the project's contractor, the city, neighborhood groups and local businesses, said DOT spokesman John McShaffrey.

He said the alternative — which could have backed up traffic on I-275 — was to leave one exit ramp lane open and permit only northbound turns onto Dale Mabry for six to nine months.

"It's happening over the summer when traffic is a little bit lighter," he said. "School is not in session for the majority of that. The tourism season is much lighter during the summer."

The ramp is scheduled to close starting at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday and open again sometime in September. Southbound I-275 drivers who wish to exit will be directed to the Himes Avenue exit instead.

Unlike the Dale Mabry ramp, it's a left-hand exit — meaning that drivers will have to get over into the left lane.

Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance business district association, fears patrons of retailers like Home Depot and Walmart will be very frustrated by the closure.

"We expressed our concern to them," Rotella said. "They pretty much told us that they didn't have any options."

The Tampa Sports Authority, which operates the Raymond James Stadium, has been in frequent contact with the DOT over the closure, said spokesman Bobby Silvest.

Given the short notice, the authority hasn't yet decided how best to notify people headed to the stadium.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two preseason home games in August. Depending on how far the ramp construction goes into September, the Sept. 7 and 14 regular-season games could be affected as well.

The University of South Florida Bulls also play home games at Raymond James.

Tampa International Airport will alert travelers by social media on Tuesday, said spokeswoman Emily Nipps.

The airport is not doing more to warn drivers, she said, because Dale Mabry does not directly lead to the airport.

Improvements to Himes Avenue will be completed before the detour goes into effect, McShaffrey said. Exiting traffic will be detoured off at Himes, then directed to take Cypress Street west to Dale Mabry.

The DOT will install additional traffic signals on Cypress Street and Himes to help manage the extra traffic, McShaffrey said.

The good news: When it's all done, the DOT will not need to close the Dale Mabry exit off I-275 in the other direction for similar construction, he said.

"Sometimes as we go through big projects like this, some closures are inevitable," McShaffrey said. "We're going to try to shorten the duration on this as much as possible. Hopefully it'll all go smoothly and after it's opened up, things will be a little better in that area."

Reach Julie Kliegman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401. Follow @jmkliegman on Twitter.

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