TAMPA — Surprise, surprise. Weekend traffic on Interstate 275 wasn't an epic nightmare after all.
Delays heading to Tampa were minimal. People made it to their Jimmy Buffett and Nickelback concerts. Cars were never backed up all the way to Pinellas County as predicted.
Why did the various closures and shifts to the new northbound lanes cause so few problems?
Drivers actually heeded the warnings, Florida Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey said.
"If you will, it was almost a scare tactic," he said. "But we really didn't know how bad it was going to be."
Transportation officials created a buzz when they spread word through the news media that people needed to avoid I-275 north and east of the Howard Frankland Bridge. They told people to add an hour to their northbound commutes, or avoid I-275 completely.
"We don't normally tell people to avoid a roadway," McShaffrey said. "We just tell people what's happening."
As a result, weekend traffic was much lighter than officials predicted. There were the typical slowdowns, especially around the West Shore Boulevard exit, and the speed limit was reduced on one portion of the interstate. But for once, the construction seemed to have little impact.
McShaffrey said construction crews worked around the clock all weekend and found themselves ahead of schedule, which also helped. Early Saturday, traffic was switched to the new northbound I-275 alignment between the Himes Avenue and Ashley Drive-Scott Street exits, and a third lane in that area opened Sunday instead of Monday.
Still, drivers should keep in mind that the toughest part of the I-275 widening project will continue for the next four to six months, McShaffrey said.
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.