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Tampa citizens imagine Ashley Drive without existing I-275 exit ramps

A downtown community advisory committee brainstormed ways to improve safety and connectivity along the corridor.

TAMPA — The vision of removing the popular Interstate 275 interstate ramp that shoots traffic directly onto Ashley Drive has arisen again as the city evaluates what downtown would look like without it.

A presentation was made to an advisory committee Tuesday about reconfiguring Ashley Drive — a main downtown corridor — so it would emphasize comfort for pedestrians and bicyclists over high-speed highway traffic.

The idea is to remove the Ashley Drive south ramp while keeping traffic flowing north to the popular river district, including Water Works Park, Ulele restaurant and the Armature Works food hall.

“We all know what it’s like to drive off of the interstate and onto Ashley Drive. It’s pretty fast, pretty scary,” said Tampa’s redevelopment coordinator Valerie Ferrell. “This is an opportunity to weigh in on how that new spur will look.”

Drivers would still be able to access the highway from Ashley Drive, but the goal is to shorten the exit footprint and bring it down to street-level closer to the interstate. Most of the ramp, including the parts that fly over local roads, would be removed.

Josh Frank, who made the presentation Tuesday to the advisory committee of the Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency, emphasized that this was only a preliminary conversation in what will be “a lengthy engagement for the city at large.”

There were no renderings or traffic counts shared with the group. Instead, it was a brainstorming session to gather thoughts on how Ashley Drive affects people and what could be done to mitigate concerns in the future.

This input could help shape the design, Frank said, and craft arguments in case the Florida Department of Transportation pushes back against the idea. The department has opposed removing the Ashley interstate ramp in the past.

“This is the 10,000-foot view,” Frank said. “It helps us build the narrative for why we’re making some of the decisions we’re making with the design.”

People chimed in from around the table and on a virtual meeting link, sharing positives and negatives about Ashley Drive today. The ideas filled virtual post-it notes that covered the presentation screen:

Unsafe to cross. Disconnected. Accident prone. Missed opportunity.

“It is a definite barrier between the river and the connections we’re trying to make with the jewel of the city center,” said Rob Rosner, Tampa’s director of economic opportunity.

But while the group was unified in their criticisms of the current configuration, there was less agreement on how to address it.

Would other streets take on the traffic Ashley south now carries? Perhaps other existing exits could share the flow. Or Scott Street could become an outer road with access to Franklin and Florida streets. Some wanted to see Ashley Drive undergo a road diet, cutting it to two lanes of traffic with a landscaped median in between.

“I assume we’re in kind of a dreamy little state of brainstorming right now,” said Lorrin Shepard, chief operating officer for the Straz Performing Arts Center. “I don’t know how much is practical or relevant.”

Frank said there are two other workshops scheduled to gather ideas from the community.

“The goal is to bring a rendered final vision to the city to give the public a clear sense of what we think can be accomplished,” Frank said.

The city would then share those recommendations with the state. Officials at both levels would need to determine whether such a concept fits into the region’s future transportation network and how to pay for it.