TAMPA — Just last week, hundreds of workers were toiling like beavers making a dam, drilling and pounding to the steady thrum of nearby traffic on the $865 million project to build a new span for the Howard Frankland bridge.
But with Hurricane Ian promising to thwack Florida’s west coast in the coming days, it appears that construction has stopped and the heavy cranes and building materials have been moved away from the bridge as one of the Florida Department of Transportation’s biggest projects in a generation is on pause.
The Howard Frankland, and the two other bridges bridge connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — the Gandy Bridge and the Courtney Campbell Causeway — are being monitored by the Florida Department of Transportation and law enforcement.
“We will close the bridges if the approaches get covered by water,” regional department spokesperson Kris Carson told the Tampa Bay Times. She could not provide an estimate of when that will be. “We’re just going to have to monitor the storm.”
Carson could not confirm when construction on the bridge ceased, and when storm preparations began at the site on Tuesday.
Yesterday, the Florida Department of Transportation announced the suspension of all lane closures in the Tampa Bay area. Road and bridge contractors were instructed to temporarily suspend all operations on active construction projects within the projected path of Hurricane Ian. “All available lanes will remain open on the interstate and State Road system in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties,” according to a news release.
The cranes being used to construct the new Howard Frankland Bridge across Tampa Bay appear to have been tied together as of Tuesday, and it looks like their lift cables are dropped in the water ahead of Hurricane Ian. Rising from the murky waters of the Old Tampa Bay is an archipelago of piles, concrete poles driven deep into the bay floor, and giraffe-like cranes.
The Howard Frankland is easily the most traveled of the three crossings, handling some 174,000 car trips per day. This week those trips have no doubt included scores of residents heeding Pinellas County’s mandatory evacuations and others scrambling to prep their hurricane kits with water and food.
Currently, the Howard Frankland is composed of two spans: one has four southbound lanes, the other four northbound lanes. None are tolled. The span under construction will bring four general-use lanes, four express toll lanes (two in each direction), and a 12-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail. Completion is slated for late 2025.
A team of more than 200, equipped with 27 cranes and 82 barges have worked on the linkage between Tampa’s Westshore district and Pinellas’ Gateway area since construction began in 2020.
Further south, the Florida Highway Patrol are monitoring the wind speeds on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Lower Tampa Bay to connect St. Petersburg to Terra Ceia in Manatee County. The bridge typically closes when wind speeds top 40 mph or more and remain sustained, Carson said. Troopers reported gusts up to 30mph late Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, at the Howard Frankland, the cranes stood still but the cars kept crossing, as the whole region seemed to take a collective inhale, bracing for lashing rain and thrashing wind.
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2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THE HURRICANE: A school mental health expert says to let them know what’s happening, keep a routine and stay calm.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN A SHELTER: What to bring — and not bring — plus information on pets, keeping it civil and more.
SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME: Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.
IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.
RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.
DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits
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Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.