New Howard Frankland Bridge to have more lanes, future light rail

Drivers on the Howard Frankland Bridge, photo courtesy FDOT

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Transportation is making changes to enhance the design of the Howard Frankland Bridge.

The Howard Frankland Bridge project is scheduled to begin construction in 2020.  The changes are being made as a result of Tampa Bay Next process, which is leading the department to reevaluate all of the elements of the former Tampa Bay Express (TBX) project as well as other potential projects that were not covered under TBX.

The most recent plan for the Howard Frankland Bridge called for the demolition of the existing northbound bridge, converting the existing southbound bridge to carry four northbound general use lanes, and constructing a new six-lane bridge to carry four southbound general use lanes as well as one express lane in each direction. FDOT officials say they are changing their plan to improve safety and emergency evacuation, while better accommodating future travel demand, transit on express lanes, a possible rail corridor in the future, and bicycle/pedestrian traffic.

The new plan will construct a southbound bridge that will carry four general use lanes and two express lanes in each direction. The new plan also includes a bicycle/pedestrian trail. The bridge will be designed with a structure strong enough to accommodate future light rail.

Officials will be conducting outreach this week ahead of the Howard Frankland Bridge public hearing. The public hearing is scheduled for November 14 and 16. The November 14 public hearing will be at the Westshore Marriott in Tampa, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The November 16 public hearing will be at the Hilton-St. Pete Carillon Park, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“These changes improve the previous design proposed for the Howard Frankland bridge and they incorporate feedback from the community and local partners related to safety, transit, bicycle and pedestrian options, and future transportation needs. With Hurricane Irma evacuations fresh in our minds and the need to accommodate the growing demand in the Tampa Bay Region, this new design not only improves safety and mobility but continues to enhance multimodal opportunities and choices,” according to District Seven Secretary David Gwynn in a news release Monday.

The department is also highlighting other important benefits as a result of the plan changes:

-The new design will improve incident management in emergency response situations, which addresses safety concerns raised by the community during our outreach process.

-Hurricane evacuation plans can utilize all the lanes. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, this is particularly important for coastal Pinellas County, the most densely populated county in Florida.

-The new design would provide improved operations of Express Bus Service and better accommodate the possibility of future transit.

-The new design includes a bicycle/pedestrian trail, which accommodates requests from both the Hillsborough MPO and Forward Pinellas and reflects the increased emphasis the community has asked FDOT to place on bicycle/pedestrian facilities.

-In order to accommodate light rail in the future, FDOT would not have to construct a third bridge as called for in the previous plan. They would only need to widen the existing southbound bridge and shift some of the travel lanes to the widened bridge, which would be more cost efficient and less impactful to the environment.

-This new design would accommodate future demand at a much lower cost than adding lanes as part of the future construction.

-The additional express lane in each direction will better prepare the Howard Frankland Bridge for the potential of autonomous vehicles.  Experts believe that initially autonomous vehicles (passenger and transit) may operate in dedicated lanes.

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