TAMPA— A drop in daily traffic has allowed construction crews to speed up work on adding lanes to the frustrating bottleneck at the Howard Frankland Bridge and Westshore interchange.
The $32 million project will add lanes in each direction on Interstate 275 at the Tampa end of the bridge and also on the exit ramp for toward Kennedy Boulevard and Tampa International Airport.
Transportation officials hope this will alleviate one of the area’s most well-known traffic snarls, where northbound traffic on the bridge slows to a crawl as the road narrows from four lanes to two. Now, drivers will have three lanes, whether they continue north toward downtown or if they exit for the airport.
Work began in March 2019, and the Florida Department of Transportation’s Tampa office expected to open the new lanes in the fall.
But now the department is saying the new lanes could open this summer.
“We anticipate it finishing early,” spokeswoman Kris Carson said. “The contractor has been able to be more productive with the reduced traffic volumes.”
For example, a list of seven projects that would normally take between 5 to 7 days to complete took construction crews only three days earlier this month. Workers set beams, installed handrails and framed overhang jacks in half the time it usually takes, Carson said.
“We’re able to extend lane closure durations and detours that aren’t going to be impacting the traveling public or businesses as much during this time,” project manager Marshall Hampton said.
As a result, I-275 will be closed overnight Sunday and Monday in both directions between West Shore Boulevard and State Road 60. Both directions of I-275 will detour to Kennedy Boulevard from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night as crews remove signs, the structure holding them and a digital message board.
All northbound I-275 traffic will be directed off at Exit 39 east on Kennedy Boulevard/SR 60 to Lois Avenue. At Lois Avenue, drivers will turn left and go north to the entrance ramp onto northbound I-275.
All southbound I-275 traffic will be directed off at Exit 40A for West Shore Boulevard. After exiting, drivers will turn left and go south to Kennedy Boulevard/SR 60, turn right and go west towards I-275. At the traffic signal on the west side of Westshore Plaza, turn left and go west to the entrance ramp onto southbound I-275.
Those driving southbound toward the airport or Veterans Expressway will use Exit 40A for West Shore Boulevard. At the end of the ramp, turn right and go north on West Shore Boulevard to Spruce Street. Turn left onto Spruce Street and go west to the entrance to the airport or continue onto westbound SR 60.
Traffic coming eastbound from the airport and SR 60 will continue past the “loop” entrance ramp onto northbound I-275 and drive east on Kennedy Boulevard/SR 60 to Lois Avenue. At Lois Avenue, drivers will turn left and go north to the entrance ramp onto northbound I-275.
David Gwynn, district secretary for the transportation department, announced in late 2018 that the state would build the extra lanes in hopes of providing relief for those stuck in traffic. The backups caused by the notorious bottleneck can span the length of the bridge and lead to missed flights, late work arrivals and profanity-laced rants.
The Department of Transportation previously tied the improvements at West Shore to the rest of the now-defunct, multibillion-dollar Tampa Bay Express project. That controversial interstate expansion was put on hold in 2016 because of community backlash.
Gwynn took over as district secretary in 2017 and announced plans to address the traffic snarl at the interchange while a long-term plan was developed. He originally hoped the new lanes would open in 2021, but later was able to move up the start date. Now officials hope the lanes will be open to drivers in just a few more months.
The additional lanes were initially expected to cost about $29 million, but the price tag rose a few million when the contract was awarded and when construction crews ran into issues with an electrical line in the ground that needed to be fixed, Hampton said.
The added lanes are a relatively quick and affordable fix as far as transportation projects go, Gwynn said previously. The state’s bigger plan for the interchange will cost about $1.4 billion and won’t open to drivers for about another decade.
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