FDOT secretary re-affirms new Howard Frankland could accommodate light rail

Published Nov. 1, 2013

The state's top transportation official on Wednesday reaffirmed an earlier commitment that the new Howard Frankland Bridge redevelopment project will include the design and structural capacity to accommodate light rail.

At the Tampa Bay Partnership breakfast, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said his agency has committed to spending $25 million on a substructure that would strengthen the bridge span, FDOT officials said.

"We're not building any amenities but rather we're making the structure strong enough to build a light rail," said Ming Gao, FDOT planning manager.

Gao said the project is still in the study phase, so the announcement does not alter previous progress.

The bridge was built in 1959 and is structurally worn. Current plans include swapping out the bridge with a new one that looks much similar. But the new design would include room on either the side or middle lanes for "transit envelopes," or spaces where buses, tolled express lanes or a light rail could fit.

Replacing the bridge is estimated to run $390 million, and with the recent news, $25 million will be added for it to be light-rail ready.

Gao said the project is still seeking funds, and he does not know at the moment where they will come from.

Transportation officials are waiting to hear from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties as to what they want. Pinellas is likely to ask residents for a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund light-rail construction and expanded bus service; Hillsborough voters defeated a similar referendum in 2010.