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When will the Gateway Expressway (finally) open? 2024, FDOT says.

The oft-delayed project is set to be done early next year, as work on the Howard Frankland Bridge and other I-275 projects continue.
 
A laborer works Monday along 118th Avenue North on the Gateway Expressway Project in St. Petersburg. The oft-delayed project is set to conclude in early 2024.
A laborer works Monday along 118th Avenue North on the Gateway Expressway Project in St. Petersburg. The oft-delayed project is set to conclude in early 2024. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2023|Updated Nov. 25, 2023

For years, drivers taking Interstate 275 north out of Pinellas County, or taking the same road in, have encountered consecutive construction projects meant to help reshape the region’s traffic flow.

One of those projects — the oft-delayed Gateway Expressway — is set to finally open early next year after six years of construction. Others, including the overhaul of the Howard Frankland Bridge, will hit milestones later in the year: David Gwynn, the Florida Department of Transportation secretary for the Tampa Bay area, said last week that the bridge’s new span should open by the end of 2024.

A handful of other projects along Pinellas’ I-275 corridor are also in the works, including more express lanes. There’s also a plan that Gwynn said would allow motorists to drive from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to the Howard Frankland without changing lanes, addressing an annoying quirk of that stretch of highway.

Here’s a look at where those projects stand.

Gateway Expressway

The nearly $600 million project will add two elevated toll roads — one connecting the interstate to U.S. 19, the other linking it to the Bayside Bridge.

Conceived as part of the state’s plan to add highway capacity for a growing Tampa Bay, the project was underway by early 2018. At the time, the Department of Transportation said it would be done by late 2021. By early 2021, it had pushed back the completion date to 2023. As recently as September, transportation officials said construction would finish next January.

And last week, Gwynn told Pinellas County commissioners that the Department of Transportation was looking at opening the roads to traffic in February and having the project completely finished by spring.

“That’ll provide great relief to that section of the county,” he said.

The Fourth Street northbound entrance ramp onto I-275, which had been closed for more than a year due to construction on the project, reopened in September. The southbound exit to Fourth Street has been closed since early 2021 and is expected to open early next year.

Tolls on the expressway will be in effect at all hours and will remain static.

Howard Frankland Bridge

The $865 million transformation of the bridge connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, meanwhile, is on schedule: Gwynn said last week that he expects “finishing touches” to be done by the end of 2025, in keeping with the timeline the state laid out when work began in 2020.

Calm weather this year — the rainy season was the driest in more than two decades — has helped construction stay on track, Gwynn said.

“That’s a tough project to build out there on the water,” he said. “If the winds get too high, the cranes have trouble.”

The bridge’s new eight-lane span — which will include four general-use southbound lanes, two express lanes in each direction and a path for bicyclists and pedestrians — will open in late 2024, Gwynn said. The current southbound span will become northbound. The current northbound span, which was built in 1959 and which transportation officials have said is expensive to maintain and vulnerable to hurricanes, is set for demolition sometime in 2025.

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Points south

A handful of projects south of the bridge and Gateway area are being designed, Gwynn said. A plan to expand I-275 between the 38th Avenue North exit and the Fourth Street exit, in order to add two express lanes each way, was among the projects promised funding under a $4 billion state initiative passed earlier this year. The express lanes will tie into those in the Gateway project.

Construction is estimated to cost $339 million. With the funding already earmarked, Gwynn said construction is likely to begin in 2025, “much sooner than we had anticipated.”

A similar project, which would add express lanes to I-275 between the 38th Avenue North exit and the I-375 interchange, is also in the design phase. The estimated cost is about $167 million, including design and right-of-way purchases.

A project to allow drivers to get from Pinellas’ southern tip to the Howard Frankland without changing lanes has also been proposed. Reconstruction would be done on the portion of I-275 between the I-375 interchange and the 54th Avenue South exit. Neither of the latter two projects has received funding, Gwynn said.