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Fast-track repair on junction planned

"Malfunction Junction," an interchange that last week proved it can be just as deadly as it is annoying, could be in line for a five-year fix to move traffic more safely, officials said Monday.

At a campaign stop for Gov. Lawton Chiles, state officials said they had developed a plan that should reduce traffic that weaves dangerously from lane-to-lane on Interstates 4 and 275.

The fix, which officials described as an interim solution designed to provide 10 to 15 years' relief, would cost $88-million.

That's a lot less than the $680-million officials estimate it would cost to rebuild and expand the interchange completely.

"It's much more achievable from a funding standpoint," said Bill McDaniel, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation district that includes Tampa. "It would make it a much safer system from the standpoint of operations and safety."

The idea is to keep the 150,000 drivers who use the interchange every day out of each others' way.

Last week, a driver died when his semitrailer truck bounced off a delivery truck on an I-4 ramp, plowed through a guard rail and landed upside down on southbound I-275.

Although that wreck refocused attention on the interchange's hazards, officials said the plan had been in the works four months. And despite making the announcement before chanting, sign-waving supporters, Chiles brushed aside the suggestion that the timing for the announcement was purely political.

"The state's been working on this for four months, and we've come up with a plan," he said in response to a reporter's question.

As it stands, many drivers on I-4 or I-275 simply want to drive through the interchange on their way, for instance, from St. Petersburg to Orlando. Others are going to or leaving downtown Tampa.

As proposed, exit ramps to and from downtown would be reconfigured and some lengthened. As a result, motorists would not enter or leave the interchange where traffic is heaviest.

At Ashley Street, a short and tricky entrance ramp onto northbound I-275 would be eliminated altogether. Traffic leaving downtown for I-4 could still take a new, longer Ashley Street ramp leading straight to I-4. Motorists who wanted to get onto I-275 going north would get on at the Orange Street ramp.

McDaniel said the repairs could be made in five to seven years. But "all that's contingent on being able to secure funding in addition to what we already have."

That's where organizers planned for U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, to come in.

Gibbons, who faces a tough re-election challenge of his own, has committed himself to trying to secure additional federal highway funds for the project, said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. Gibbons wasn't there to deliver that promise, however, because his car suffered a malfunction of its own on the way to the news conference.

Turanchik said the first phase of the project could be done by reprioritizing existing highway funds but getting the entire project done as soon as possible would require federal aid.

Turanchik said the first phase of the project could be done by reprioritizing existing highway funds but getting the entire project done as soon as possible would require federal aid.

Turanchik said the first phase of the project could be done by reprioritizing existing highway funds but getting the entire project done as soon as possible would require federal aid.

Turanchik said the first phase of the project could be done by reprioritizing existing highway funds but getting the entire project done as soon as possible would require federal aid.

Turanchik said the first phase of the project could be done by reprioritizing existing highway funds but getting the entire project done as soon as possible would require federal aid.

Turanchik said the first phase of the project could be done by reprioritizing existing highway funds but getting the entire project done as soon as possible would require federal aid.

Turanchik said the first phase of the project could be done by reprioritizing existing highway funds but getting the entire project done as soon as possible would require federal aid.

"Most highway projects take seven to 12 years to do," he said. "Doing something in five is a very fast track."

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