TAMPA — The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the City of Tampa more than five million dollars in federal funding Tuesday, to support the reconstruction of a key downtown intersection for a safer and more walkable urban core.
The plans call for the removal of a flyover ramp to Interstate 275 from Ashley Drive and an exit ramp to Tampa Street from I-275, replacing the existing interchange with a boulevard to boost downtown connectivity. City and county leaders alike have championed the project as promoting economic activity and making it easier for bikers and pedestrians to traverse the area.
The grant — which will cover approximately half of the project’s $10.71 million price tag — is from the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Grant Program, launched with the infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law in 2021.
The program is meant to benefit communities “that were previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It is the first federal initiative to repair the harm caused by infrastructure choices in the 20th century, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement the changes coming to Ashley Drive “will not only improve transportation equity but make it easier and safer for our residents to access Downtown.”
The existing on-ramp cuts off the street grid, making it more difficult for cyclists and pedestrians to navigate the area. “This federal grant will help people in the community be able to get to things they need, like jobs, hospitals, grocery stores, schools, homes that they can afford, and places to play outside,” Tampa’s Chief Planner Alana Brasier said in a statement.
The need to reconfigure Ashley Drive was pinpointed back in Tampa’s 2012 InVision City Center Plan. The city and the Florida Department of Transportation began conceptualizing a plan for the revised street grid in 2019.
The newly awarded grant project, Uniting Neighborhoods & Infrastructure for Transportation Equity, gives the city a total of $5,354,695. Money will go toward new bicycle and pedestrian routes and street connections at Royal Street and Harrison Street, improving access in north downtown.
The grant will also support the creation of a project community advisory committee, development opportunities for affordable housing and parks accessing the riverfront, according to a news release from the city.
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“Thanks to the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, we are reconnecting neighborhoods and creating safer streets across the Tampa Bay area,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat representing western Hillsborough County and southeastern Pinellas County, including most of Tampa. “I am thrilled that one of the first Reconnecting Communities grants is coming to the City of Tampa to fix the historic mistake that cut off neighbors and small businesses in Tampa Heights from Downtown.”
Other local investments from the 2021 Infrastructure Law include approximately $40 million to make Tampa and Hillsborough roads safer, $20 million for a new transit center in downtown Clearwater and $12.6 million for the construction of a new berth at Port Tampa Bay.