While the first phase of the long-anticipated widening of Interstate 275 in West Tampa will give frustrated motorists some relief, the project is just the beginning of a transformation that one day may include mass transit along the heavily traveled corridor.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is reconstructing northbound I-275 between the Himes Avenue and the Hillsborough River.
What’s now a three-lane highway will be shifted south and become a new four-lane highway closer to the homes on La Salle Street.
Originally part of a larger project to rebuild I-275 between the Howard Frankland Bridge and downtown Tampa, FDOT had to split the construction into several phases after receiving bids higher than expected because of rising prices for concrete, steel and other materials.
“This first project was broken out of what was to be larger projects,” said John McShaffrey, public information officer of interstate construction for FDOT.
“The last couple of years when prices skyrocketed on the projects, we haven’t been able to let projects as originally anticipated. The department has gone back and broken up the projects into smaller projects that are cost affordable.”
Widening of the northbound lanes between Himes Avenue and the Hillsborough River started in August and is expected to be complete in spring 2010. This phase of the project is expected to cost approximately $107 million and covers 2.2 mi. (3.5 km).
Once phase one is complete, work will start between Himes Avenue and the Howard Frankland Bridge and on the southbound lanes, possibly in 2011. The project’s final phase is scheduled to start in 2012 and will reconstruct the southbound lanes from the Hillsborough River to Himes Avenue.
“What we’re building is a northbound collector/distribution set of four lanes where eventually traffic will move to those,” said Brett Kermode, project manager of Tampa-based PCL Civil Constructors Inc., the prime contractor for the job.
“The southbound traffic will move to the old northbound lanes and a future contract will tear out the existing southbound lanes and four new southbound lanes will be built.”
Currently, Kermode said, the project is slightly behind schedule because of some contamination issues that PCL is working with the state to address.
“It’s an older part of Tampa and there’s a lot of unknowns, a lot of utility lines and some contaminated site conditions that were unforeseen,” Kermode said. “We found a few concrete obstructions when we started pile driving and the contaminated areas identified in the plan expanded a little bit after we got started.”
Kermode said PCL is working with FDOT and Shaw Environmental, a remediation contractor treating the water and soil in the contaminated areas, to resolve the issue.
While Kermode expects the job to finish on schedule, he said time on the 730 day contract is one of the project’s biggest challenges.
“The site is pretty tight, but we’re out of existing traffic for the most part,” Kermode said. “A lot of the work is in residential areas so routing the trucks in has been a big challenge. We’re trying to get as much of the underground work and get up out of the ground before the rainy season starts.”
Kermode said the project also includes building eight bridges, one of which is an abutment, 33,000 sq. ft. (3,000 sq m) of MSE walls, about 25,000 ft. (7,600 m) of storm drainage and 1 million cu. yd. (765,000 cu m) of embankment. They’ll be using 10,000 cu. yd. (7,600 cu m) of concrete and are bringing in 900,000 cu. yd. (688,000 cu m) of dirt.
McShaffrey said there’s also a separate 500-day drainage project being constructed at the same time by Posen Construction that started in January and should be complete by spring 2009.
“We’ve got a box culvert job, which is a large drainage job under way,” McShaffrey said. “That is another project broken out of the road construction project. The box culvert and drainage system includes some ponds that will be under the ultimate construction so we’re getting that utility project out of the way.”
For a major job like this, Kermode said they have the whole equipment fleet on-site.
“We have a couple of Triple 8 cranes, some RT cranes, a couple of loaders and tool carriers,” Kermode said. “The rest of it is mainly sub work. We have a subcontractor — Larkin Contracting — doing most of our earthwork and pipe work. They have excavators, loaders, graders, rollers. Dane Construction is doing most of the MSE walls and embankment behind the MSE walls.”
PCL owns most of its equipment, but rented some crawler cranes from Kelly Rentals. At this point, Kermode said, they have about 70 hourly workers on-site, mostly working a daytime shift.
Because of the close proximity to homes and businesses, PCL is taking some extra steps to lessen the construction’s impact by using non-vibratory sheet pile installation.
“The area of sheet pile was specified to be installed by non-vibratory means,” Kermode said. “We originally looked at jetting it, but the close proximity to the back of people’s homes would have been a mess. We’re using a sheet pile press, a drill and press in one unit. They come in and pre-drill and press into it. No vibrations, no mess from jetting.”
Though the project is a major corridor into and out of downtown, traffic delays and detours have been minimal, said Kermode, though some side streets will be impacted with closures in the future.
Once phase one is complete, McShaffrey hopes it will be the first step toward moving traffic more smoothly along I-275.
“We’re really just trying to move traffic more efficiently through the 275 corridor,” McShaffrey said. “We’re reserving the median for future transportation projects. Light rail is possible but we’ve not determined what will be in the corridor yet. It could be some sort of transit, additional lanes, a combination of things. Our first goal is to get the interstate built more to the outside, which is what we’re doing now — four lanes is each direction. We’re reserving that middle for additional transportation needs.”
At this point the project is “looking real good,” McShaffrey said and is getting back on schedule now that the contamination issues have been addressed.
“The project still has some time to go, but they’re still tracking to where they may finish early and at this time we think they’ll finish on time,” McShaffrey said. “They’re in line to make a shift to most of the new lanes by March, which would be a large portion of the project out of the way.” CEG
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