Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
The new I-4: smooth
After a dozen years, work in Hillsborough is ending. But headaches are coming to I-275.
By MIKE BRASSFIELD, Times Staff Writer
Published August 18, 2007
[Ron Brackett | Times]
[Skip O'Rourke | Times (2001)]
THEN: Barricades and orange barrels, such as these near U.S. 301 looking east, will soon be things of the past on Interstate 4. but if you want to see them, just look at Interstate 275.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
NOW: Kenny Binson, 32, bolts together the structure for a road sign to be placed at Interstate 4 and 50th Street, just one of the many finishing touches remaining.
TAMPA - The widening of Interstate 4 in Hillsborough County has been a truly epic construction hassle. It has gone on for so long that babies born when the project started are about to enter the seventh grade.
After 12 years, countless traffic jams and hundreds of millions of dollars, it's nearly finished. The road itself is done, and workers are just putting the final touches on things like signs and lights.
It's a milestone. Commuters can hardly believe it.
"It's weird. I've never driven this highway without orange barrels and cones and guys in hard hats," said Gary Henry, 43, an insurance agent who shuttles back and forth from Plant City to Tampa.
Unfortunately, there's a punch line: All those concrete Jersey barriers and workers in orange vests are just moving a couple of miles down the road, where they will take up residence on Interstate 275 in Tampa for much of the next decade. Starting next spring, some major exits there will be closed for months at a time.
Why do these things take so long? Specifically, why has I-4 been under construction, off and on, since the mid '90s?
For one thing, workers didn't just slap on a couple of traffic lanes along the edges of the road. They rebuilt 25 miles of the 1960s-era highway to bring it up to today's standards.
They split the $400-million job into six parts. They took a break from the widening project five years ago to reconstruct the I-4/I-275 interchange, lovingly known as Malfunction Junction.
Also, lanes have generally been closed only at night, which limits when crews can do the heaviest work. The state tries to avoid shutting down lanes in peak traffic hours, "which is basically everything during the day in the case of I-4," said John McShaffrey, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation.
"Think of somebody getting their kitchen remodeled. If you're still in the house, the contractors have to work around you and still allow you to function," McShaffrey said. "If we were to shut down I-4, it could be done in a lot less time."
The construction work has meant plenty of zigzagging and aggravation for motorists. For more than a decade, anyone driving from here toward Orlando knew the drill: At some point, you'd see lots and lots of Bob's Barricades.
'Obsolete and dangerous'
Way back in 1995, then-state senator and former Hillsborough Sheriff Malcolm Beard spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony for the highway widening. "It is badly needed," he said. "I-4 has been obsolete and dangerous for a long time."
By then, it was painfully clear that two lanes in each direction were no longer adequate to connect two burgeoning metropolitan areas, Tampa Bay and Orlando. Traffic on the highway had more than doubled since 1970. Old exit ramps went up and down so steeply, they felt like roller coasters.
Today I-4 has eight lanes from I-275 to the outskirts of Tampa, then six lanes through the rest of Hillsborough and Polk counties.
In Tampa, there's a wide, grassy median that's reserved for some kind of future transportation use - perhaps light rail, high occupancy vehicle lanes, or four more traffic lanes.
Workers rebuilt the highway in phases from Interstate 75 to the Polk County border. Then from the edge of Tampa, at 50th Street, out to I-75. Since 2004 they've been doing the last part, between 14th and 50th streets.
In Ybor City, the state has tried to make up for past sins.
Cutting through Ybor
When I-4 was built in the '60s, it cut through the middle of well-established, older Tampa neighborhoods. The road was needed, and it had to go somewhere. But it disconnected people on the north side of the highway from friends and shops on the south side. Historic buildings were demolished, and the area gradually declined.
"It went through Ybor City and divided it from Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights," said regional DOT Secretary Don Skelton.
This time around, he said, "A very large effort went into making sure that the project actually fit in with the community."
To widen the road through Ybor, several more city blocks would have to be razed. But the state treated historic homes with kid gloves, relocating and restoring 33 tin-roofed "casitas" dating from the 1890s to 1930s.
It has also poured millions into decorative and pedestrian-friendly features on and around overpasses at major Ybor cross streets - red brick facades, pillars, arches, landscaping, lighting and sidewalks.
Most notably, there's a $1.3-million illuminated fountain between 21st and 22nd streets that Tampa isn't sure it can afford to maintain.
In about two years, the state intends to start building an elevated road through Ybor from I-4 to the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.
14 years later ...
DOT officials once held a meeting with West Shore business owners about their plan to widen I-275 to 10 lanes east of the Howard Frankland Bridge. The businesspeople complained that the project had been in the planning stages for too long, and urged the state to hurry up.
That was in 1993.
Fourteen years later, the work has begun.
Why the long delay? Other highway projects had a higher priority, and the cost of building roads skyrocketed.
I-275 from the bridge to downtown Tampa is another outdated, undersized highway that will be rebuilt over the next eight years or so. Eventually it will look a lot like I-4 in Tampa: eight lanes with the same wide median.
First they'll do the part from Himes Avenue to the Hillsborough River. One inconvenience will be the lengthy closing of some major exits.
Close, so close
In the meantime, I-4 still isn't quite finished. The road is done, but not all the nagging details.
General contractor Kiewett Southern had hoped to be done by July 27, which would have netted it a $2.5-million bonus for finishing so early. This final $172-million phase of the widening project had been slated to run through next May. The bonus shrinks by $10,000 every day they're on the job past the 27th.
"They've had a lot of little things left to do," said the DOT's McShaffrey. Fixes to things like curbs and signs below the interstate should be done next month.
Next week, workers will put up structures to hold more digital signs telling drivers how long it will take to get to destinations. East of I-75, they're also installng signs saying "No trucks left lane."
Still, heading out from Tampa, I-4 is finally an unbroken ribbon of concrete as it passes the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Ford Amphitheater, Lazy Days RV Center and Dinosaur World, into the flat agricultural landscape of Florida's interior.
"It's a smooooooth ride now," said Stephanie Morrison, a nurse and veteran I-4 commuter who is a fan of the rebuilt road.
"It's about time they finished, don't you think? Now if they could just do something about these maniac drivers."