TAMPA — As part of a push to boost highway safety, workers will break ground this summer on a two-year project to widen every bridge on Interstate 275 between Floribraska and Yukon avenues.
But don't look for the $30 million state Department of Transportation effort to add more lanes to the gridlocked artery to downtown Tampa.
The aim, officials say, is to increase safety for first responders and drivers in broken-down cars, as well as give motorists a clear path to get around those vehicles.
Work is expected to start June 11 and most of it will happen at night on southbound lanes from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. and on northbound lanes from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Traffic will be narrowed to two lanes in work zones and constricted below the bridges. All of the work will occur on the inside lanes and cranes, likely in the median, will be used to drive pilings into the ground, officials said.
Too often, just one disabled vehicle can trigger a miles-long delay and hinder troopers trying to get to the vehicle or a crash scene, Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey said.
"This is a safety project. There's virtually no shoulders on those bridges and on the inside lanes, in particular," he said. "This will give motorists the ability when they break down to pull over onto those shoulders where they can't now."
The project will create 21-foot-wide emergency lanes — big enough for fire trucks, ambulances and broken-down cars.
In effect, it will transform the 26 northbound and southbound bridges along the 4.2-mile stretch into 13 bridges with concrete dividers separating northbound and southbound traffic.
The improvements should benefit troopers, emergency responders and drivers, Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins said.
"When a crash occurs and traffic backs up, we've got to get there and do our job, and time is of the essence," he said. "Having an extra emergency lane will help reduce response time, and response time in a bad crash is critical."
Many of the spans on I-275 were built in the mid 1960s and don't meet modern safety standards, according to the DOT.
Part of the aim, officials say, is to bring those bridges up to standard, make them consistent with recent road projects and create a continuous inside emergency lane along the length of the highway.
There's no indication where exactly the work will start. That will be left to the contractor to decide, McShaffrey said.
"Since they're building toward the middle, I wouldn't be surprised if they work from both ends at the same time," he said.
As part of the work, three overhead message boards also will be replaced. They'll be swapped out with color LED boards because it's getting difficult to find parts for the amber-lighted boards, McShaffrey said.