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I-275 work reaches home stretch

Barriers are being removed, but work will not be complete and the highway reopened until mid July.

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- For motorists who are frustrated with construction on Interstate 275, the removal of concrete barriers between Bearss Avenue and Busch Boulevard might look like a promising sign.

But looks can be deceiving.

Although it appears the interstate is ready to be reopened, drivers will have to wait until mid July before work to expand I-275 from four to six lanes is finished.

"Even though people are seeing the barrier wall go away, the road is still not ready," said John McShaffrey, the Department of Transportation's spokesman on the project. "Because of the nature of the work they are doing now, the (temporary) wall is not needed."

Technically, much of the road could be reopened in areas where the temporary barriers have been removed. But it would not be a continuous three-lane path.

"You would still have bottlenecks in the places where the road goes back to two lanes and you would have hazards with people switching in and out," McShaffrey said.

Most of the congestion on I-275 occurs in the mornings. Southbound traffic comes to a virtual standstill between Bearss and Busch, while workers complete a 4.7-mile project to widen the road from Busch Boulevard to U.S. 41.

Started 21/2 years ago, the $40-million construction project will add one lane in each direction by closing the median so that northbound and southbound cars travel closer to each other with a concrete divider in the middle of the road.

"Because the new lanes have eliminated the median, the (distance between the oncoming cars) would be too close for safety reasons without the concrete divider," McShaffrey said.

McShaffrey said the DOT widened the road toward the median to avoid buying right-of-way. If the DOT needed to buy land along the edge of the highway, it would have displaced many homes and businesses in the densely populated area.

Other road projects include improvements and modifications to some interchange ramps.

The exit ramp at Busch Boulevard will be reshaped so that the curve is not as sharp as it was. The smoother curve will allow cars to move a bit faster and more safely.

The most dramatic ramp improvement will be at the northbound I-275 exit at Bearss. An additional lane will be added to that ramp so that cars will have more room on the ramp instead of backing up on the interstate during heavy traffic.

"In general we are making improvements to all the ramps where the ramps tie into the roads that cross the interstate," McShaffrey said. "Those improvements include better road surfacing, lighting and improved traffic signals."

- You can reach Tim Grant at 269-5311 or grant@sptimes.com.

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