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Why was South Tampa traffic such a mess? The city blames railroad owner CSX.

CSX Transportation unexpectedly closed more than a dozen railroad crossings, frustrating drivers and choking traffic. Tampa officials say CSX didn’t warn them, so the city couldn’t warn residents.
Road closure and detour signs posted on S Howard Avenue at W De Leon Street, one of many South Tampa rail road crossings city officials said CSX Transportation closed without warning on Wednesday to perform routine maintenance. [Courtesy of Mary Estes]
Road closure and detour signs posted on S Howard Avenue at W De Leon Street, one of many South Tampa rail road crossings city officials said CSX Transportation closed without warning on Wednesday to perform routine maintenance. [Courtesy of Mary Estes]

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest street openings and closures from the city and a statement from CSX Transportation.

TAMPA — If you tried to get anywhere in the South Tampa peninsula Wednesday, this is why you were frustrated by the sudden influx of traffic-choked streets and blocked roads:

CSX Transportation unexpectedly shutdown more than a dozen roads along its railroad line — which follows the Selmon Expressway from W Morrison Avenue to W Gandy Boulevard — to perform routine maintenance.

The weekday road closure surprised many drivers, forcing them to find alternate routes and take extensive detours.

Traffic significantly piled up on major arteries like W Kennedy Boulevard, N Howard Avenue and N MacDill Avenue and drivers resorted to side streets like W Mississippi Avenue, W El Prado Boulevard, W Bay to Bay Boulevard and W Euclid Avenue — only to discover that parts of those roads were also blocked off.

Piles of asphalt sit along W Mississippi Avenue and S Carolina Avenue where CSX Transportation is performing routine maintenance. But city officials said they weren't warned about the road closings, leaving residents confused and frustrated as they tried to navigate the traffic-filled streets of South Tampa. [Photo Courtesy of Mary Estes]

Residents complained that they shouldn’t have been surprised by the road closures and confused about the detours. They’re frustrated with the lack of notice from Tampa city officials.

“The city is normally really good about notifying us,” said resident Mary Estes, who lives off Bayshore Boulevard. She said she spent more than 30 minutes stuck in traffic making a six-mile trip to the Trader Joe’s on W Swann Avenue.

”Normally we hear about these road closures through Nextdoor.com or Facebook. In this case, we didn’t hear anything."

Estes said her biggest frustration was that so many roads were closed at the same time.

But Vik Bhide, the city’s director of transportation and stormwater services said at a Wednesday news conference that city officials had no idea when CSX would carry out its plans — and no control over them, either.

“This is not how we would have done things,” he said.

Bhide said last week CSX sent the city a schedule of rail work planned for South Tampa. The city asked CSX to apply for right-of-way permits so officials would know exactly where, when and how long the work would take place.

CSX, though, failed to follow city code and failed to stick to its original schedule, Bhide said.

Instead, the railroad just started closing streets.

“Per city code, they have to do this, and they opted not too," he said. “Our big concern is had CSX followed this process that we already have, we’d be able to put mitigating measures in place. Things like detour routes, better maintenance of traffic, better information in advance to prepare the community and also we would likely not have had them close multiple crossings at the same time.”

CSX issued this statement on Wednesday:

“As part of the company’s critical infrastructure maintenance program, CSX is conducting repairs on highway-rail grade crossings throughout Tampa. CSX has closely coordinated the closures with the city and we expect to reopen the Euclid Avenue, El Prado and Bay to Bay crossing tomorrow morning, barring any weather delays or other unexpected issues. CSX apologizes to residents who may be impacted by this and we appreciate the public’s patience while we complete this important work, which is critical to ensuring the safety of motorists using these crossings and to maintaining a safe, reliable freight rail network.”

Mayor Jane Castor’s administration briefed City Council on Thursday about Wednesday’s CSX fiasco and several council members weighed in on the miscommunication between the City of Tampa and CSX Railroad.

John Dingfelder, who represents District 3, said eight city employees got a copy of the emails, which were sent on Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 alerting the city of work and city employees should have reacted but didn’t.

“See something, say something,” Dingfelder said, and that didn’t happen."

“We have to do our part to be proactive with CSX on these issues.”

These streets will reopen Thursday and Friday

Tampa officials say these locations have reopened:

  • W Euclid Avenue between S Gunlock Avenue and S Lynwood Avenue
  • W El Prado Boulevard between S Concordia Avenue and W Drexel Avenue
  • W Bay to Bay Blvd between S MacDill Avenue and S Ysabella Avenue
  • N 20th Street between E 7th Avenue and E Fifth Avenue
  • W Iowa Avenue S Manhattan Avenue and S Coolidge Avenue
  • W Oklahoma Avenue between S Manhattan Avenue and S Lois Avenue

These locations are expected to reopen by 4 p.m.:

  • W Cleveland Street between W Kennedy Boulevard and W Platt Street
  • W Platt Street from S Dakota Avenue to S Willow Avenue

The following crossings are expected to reopen by 4 p.m. Friday:

  • N 19th Street between E 7th Avenue and E Fifth Avenue
  • N 18th Street between E 7th Avenue and E Fifth Avenue
  • N 26th Street between E 7th Avenue and E Fifth Avenue

The city says the other crossings will remain closed for the next 2-5 days. Here’s when those roads were closed, so you can calculate how long it might take them to re-open:

Monday

  • W Prescott Street between S West Shore Boulevard and Fitzgerald Street
  • W McCoy Street between S West Shore Boulevard and S Trask Street
  • W Pearl Avenue between S Lois Avenue and S Clark Avenue

Tuesday

  • W Mississippi Avenue between S Georgia Avenue and S Carolina Avenue
  • W Watrous Avenue between S Moody Avenue and S Howard Avenue
  • W Morrison Avenue between S Howard Avenue and S Albany Avenue

Wednesday

  • W Swann Avenue between S Fremont Avenue and W Packwood Avenue
  • N Nebraska Avenue between E Cass Street and E Twiggs Street
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