ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - A boost of state money will help tackle Tampa Bay’s biggest traffic problems even faster after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced investments in three major road construction projects in Tampa Monday.
Florida has $2 billion to invest in infrastructure from its budget, and part of that money will go toward advancing the current Howard Frankland bridge replacement project and the future Westshore interchange and I-275 and I-4 interchange also known as "Malfunction Junction."
"I think if you look at where the growth is, clearly this is one of the main areas where you’re going to see a lot of growth and we’re just going to need to add capacity, so people are able to get around," said DeSantis, R-Florida.
Those three areas are major sources of bottlenecks in Tampa Bay, and the Westshore interchange is the region’s biggest priority.
"The early phases of this project represent over $560 million in direct investment in the local economy, and with future phases coming online soon, this investment will exceed $1.2 billion," said DeSantis.
FDOT said the state plans to start advertising for construction bids this fall for early work and bids for phase one in fall 2022, and the state will break up the work into segments. State officials originally pushed back the start date for the Westshore project from 2024 to 2026 due to pandemic shortfalls, but the extra boost of money helps set it back on track.
"This is probably the most significant transportation and infrastructure project that the state has undertaken in my lifetime," said Florida House Speaker and State Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-District 65 in Pinellas County.
The connection of I-275 and I-4 in Tampa always slows to a crawl, and the state said it’s time to do something about that.
"The downtown interchange, we’re going to make some major improvements there. Each year there are approximately 1,000 crashes that occur. With this improvement, our goal is reducing serious injury and fatal crashes," said Kevin Thibault, the Florida Secretary of Transportation.
One project already well underway is the $864-million Howard Frankland bridge replacement project, which began in 2020, is anticipated to be finished in 2025. The state accelerated this project during the pandemic last year and plans to keep the momentum going.
For Howard Frankland drivers, there will be lane closures for southbound traffic from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting Monday, September 13 through Friday, September 17, according to FDOT.
The new span will become the new southbound bridge, with four general-use lanes, four tolled express lanes, and a 12-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail. Eventually, the existing southbound lanes will be flipped northbound, and the original bridge from 1959 will be demolished. It is the first vehicle bridge built across the bay in about 25 years.
DeSantis said Tampa Bay’s growth has him keeping an eye on future road projects needed in the area.