Monday, April 23, 2018
Transportation

The pain of progress and getting us where we need to go

I know, I know. It's supposed to be good news.

Tampa International Airport, which provides us perennial bragging rights over towns with uglier, less convenient airports, is slated for $1 billion in improvements.

Space, shops, sunlight. Should be done in a couple of years. So … great, right?

But I can't help wondering: Will every square inch of this city soon be under construction?

Maybe you noticed it, too, how almost every major road seems to be in progress — big, noisy, ugly progress. Especially the war-torn country formerly known as Interstate 275.

A stretch of that highway between downtown Tampa and the (backed-up) bridges that carry up to 180,000 cars a day has become, let's just say, an adventure. It's like somebody moved the furniture around for fun.

Lanes and ramps are not where they were. Fencing, heavy equipment and construction mess are everywhere. All of which makes it less commute, more video game.

Progress, I know. And I'm for it! I definitely favor roads and facilities big enough to accommodate us as we grow. But the growing pains …

This week, I was tooling down busy MacDill Avenue, except, wait, MacDill suddenly ended where it used to go underneath I-275. I swear it did. Didn't it?

The Veterans Expressway that moves folks north and south between Tampa and the suburbs also is a headache. Then there's all the local work going on — resurfacings and replacing of water and stormwater lines conveniently located in rights of way, some of them a century old. Okay, so maybe we were due.

"The truth is, there's always something going on," David Vaughn, Tampa's director of contract administration, says cheerfully. "When there's not, something will break" and then you get to fix it.

But back to I-275, one of the state's oldest highways, which is due for this widening and rebuilding project, according to Florida Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey.

We are also getting a flatter roadway for more gradual approaches and less roller-coaster ride — you know, when you drive over the hump only to encounter stopped traffic you could not see from the other side.

As long as we're talking roads, I get McShaffrey to answer a question that has long puzzled me: How come an I-275 exit onto Dale Mabry Highway mentions east or west when Dale Mabry, by all accounts, runs north and south?

Because, he explains, U.S. 92, which mostly runs east and west, briefly turns onto Dale Mabry there before resuming its east-west route. So now when I sit stopped in traffic staring at that sign, at least I will be confounded no more. (He also mentions even-numbered roads are usually east-west and odd ones north-south. Okay, so maybe you won't wow everyone at the party with that one, but it could be handy in unfamiliar territory.)

Speaking of moving forward, on the other side of those (backed-up) bridges, Pinellas voters will consider a referendum in November to pay for light rail and way-better bus service. Hillsborough watches and waits its turn.

I guess it's something to think about when you are stopped still on a ribbon of interstate, a sea of brake lights before you: progress.

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