'It’s called malfunction junction for a reason': Changes on the way for I-275, I-4 interchange

Traffic is always backed up during rush hour on Interstates 275 and 4 in Tampa, but construction will begin soon on potential solutions.

For Tampa drivers, there’s a special phrase for driving in the downtown interchange.

"As it is now, it’s called ‘malfunction junction’ for a reason. It’s not very pleasant at all," said Camilo Soto, a Tampa resident.

The Florida Department of Transportation is gearing up to fix the downtown interchange and construction starts this summer.

"Unfortunately, we’re seeing almost 1,000 crashes per year in the downtown interchange area, and so the goal of this project is to cut that at least by half," said Kris Carson, a FDOT Tampa spokesperson.

FDOT employees explained what’s in store for the $223.5 million project Thursday during a public meeting. Boards lined a room to show the changes coming around their neighborhoods. 

"So this project is proposing to build a new flyover bridge, two lanes, get the traffic flowing more efficiently, and there will be a whole lot of other changes as well, but the whole idea is to get traffic moving better," said Carson.

The interchange project will connect with the I-275 capacity project that’s currently underway, extending noise barrier walls along the interstate. But some residents do not think additional lanes are the answer to Tampa’s traffic woes.

I’m not a traffic engineer, but to me from my perspective as a lay person, it’s kind of a Band-Aid. We really need to start thinking of getting cars off of roads and getting folks to use different modes of transportation and help alleviate the area’s problems regarding traffic," said Soto, who is a member of the Tampa Heights Civic Association.

Adjusting to growing pains will take time, and Tampa Bay has a lot of choke points.

"We have the gateway project in Pinellas County. That should be wrapping up later this year. As you’re heading into Tampa, you have a brand-new bridge being built, the Howard Frankland Bridge, and then the Westshore interchange, that will start construction in about a year," said Carson. "We’re going to complete reconstruct that interchange. That’s a big choke point in Tampa as well."

So until construction begins, FDOT is getting one last round of feedback on the plans and what neighbors want in community spaces near the interstates.

"I’d love to see some sort of connectivity, lighting and art, those kinds of things to make the walking under the overpasses a little bit more pleasing," said Soto.

FDOT said neighbors want sports courts or dog parks, and employees are even getting feedback on the type of fencing or brick color going up for barrier walls. There are two more public meetings. The next in-person public meeting is January 26 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Ragan Park Community Center 1200 E Lake Avenue, Tampa, FL 33605. There’s a virtual option on January 31.