The Florida Department of Transportation royally botched road work on Interstate 275 over the weekend. The massive traffic jam from a resurfacing job was inexcusable, and the DOT should prevent another such safety threat and inconvenience from happening again. This may be what happens in a region with huge highway projects and few mass transit options, but the government still has a responsibility to manage the assets it has better than this.
Traffic backed up for miles Sunday as motorists heading into Tampa across the Howard Frankland Bridge faced bumper-to-bumper traffic. The DOT had authorized contractors Skanska/Ajax to spend 11 hours late Saturday and early Sunday realigning and paving lanes in the northbound direction. But contractors didn't have enough trucks carrying materials to the site, the DOT said, or the trucks ran late. The DOT also said its 11-hour window to complete the job might have been unrealistic.
These are weak excuses for a mess that carried into Monday. The DOT should have ensured the contractors were prepared before closing the lanes. This is a major interstate serving millions across the region, and a critical coastal evacuation route. It's one thing to inconvenience motorists with unforeseen problems. But paving is routine. And the state should have factored in the effect that the usual high speeds on the interstate would have on the new asphalt. The foul-up here looks like a breakdown in planning and logistics.
The backups are a painful reminder of how far this region has fallen behind in building a modern transportation system. But that doesn't excuse the DOT and the contractors, who have tested the patience of motorists with a project that was behind schedule as of last month and is not due to be completed until fall 2016. This interstate work is not happening in a vacuum; the traffic impacts are being felt on the Gandy Bridge and into Pinellas County, too. The DOT is in charge, and the department needs to get it right.