The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), District Seven has initiated a Project Development & Environment (PD&E) Study for I-4 in Hillsborough County and Polk County. The study will evaluate I-4 from east of 50th Street to the Polk Parkway (SR 570).
I-4 is a major east-west interstate that provides an important connection to the regional and statewide transportation network (such as I-275, I-75, and the Polk Parkway) linking the Tampa Bay region to the remainder of the state and nation. I-4 is a Strategic Intermodal System (SIS) highway. The SIS is the state’s network of high priority facilities. The 22.1 miles of express toll lanes on I-4 from east of 50th Street to the Polk Parkway in Hillsborough County and Polk County, are critical in order to maintain and improve access to major transportation facilities, as well as enhance mobility within the Tampa Bay area. The FDOT has designated I-4 eastbound from Tampa as one of seven one-way evacuation routes in Florida. The need for interstate system improvements within Tampa Bay has been extensively documented in numerous studies, such as the Tampa Interstate Study (TIS), several PD&E studies, and the TBX Master Plan.
This study includes the Recommended Build Alternative of express toll lanes but also a do nothing, or No-Build Alternative. As part of the Recommended Build Alternative, the express toll lanes on I-4:
- Reduces congestion on the existing lanes.
- Provides a choice to the user to take a tolled option or stay in the existing lanes.
- Provides reliable travel times.
- Are consistent with local and regional transportation plans.
Alternatives Being Considered
The No-Build Alternative assumes that no improvements except routine maintenance would be made to I-4 within the project limits. The advantages of the No-Build Alternative include no new costs for design and construction, no effects to existing land uses and natural resources, and no disruption to the public during construction. However, the disadvantages of the No-Build Alternative are the project’s purpose and need would not be met and the project would result in increased congestion and user cost. Additionally, the No-Build Alternative is not consistent with local plans. However, this alternative will remain a viable alternative throughout the PD&E Study process.
Preferred Build Alternative
The Preferred Build Alternative consists of providing express toll lanes adjacent to the existing non-tolled travel lanes on I-4. The proposed improvements are part of the Tampa Bay Express (TBX) Master Plan and would maintain the same three general use (non-tolled) lanes. The Preferred Build Alternative will provide for two express toll lanes in each direction of I-4 from east of 50th Street to the Polk Parkway.
The Preferred Build Alternative typical sections predominantly allow for two 12-foot ELs, barrier separation, and three 12-foot general use lanes (GUL) in each direction. In order to minimize environmental impacts due to ROW constraints, from West of Alexander Street to County Line Road a typical section with two 11-foot ELs and a 3-foot buffer instead of 12-foot ELs and barrier separation is planned.
However, there are some areas where maintaining a 44-foot minimum transit envelope with Express Lanes cannot be accommodated without the acquisition of additional right of way. In order to minimize this potential right of way impact, elevating the transit corridor in order to accommodate both modes of transportation is proposed. For instance, in the Plant City area where there are service roads, the transit corridor would be reduced to 16 feet. This will allow for a pier to be placed in the center for an elevated transit corridor as depicted.
TBX Starter Project (Staged Implementation)
The FDOT underwent an evaluation to identify a series of lower cost tolled lane projects that can be funded in a future FDOT Five-Year Work Program for staged implementation. These initial projects could be incorporated into the Master Plan projects at minimal additional costs. The shorter-term, lower-cost improvements are considered the “Starter Projects”. The Starter Project improvements are consistent with the Recommended Build Alternative from east of 50th Street to Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard. However, there will be only one 11-foot express lane with a 4-foot buffer in each direction of I-4 from Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard to east of Mango Road.
A Smart Solution – Tampa Bay Express
TBX is helping change things by giving you an exciting new commuting option. TBX allows drivers who chose to pay the express lane toll a smoother ride to wherever they’re going. All it takes is a SunPass, and then you’re ready to use TBX lanes whenever you like.
A number of ideas have been explored to help reduce traffic congestion, but they are either too expensive or unworkable over the long run (adding more non-toll lanes to our highways). Express toll lanes are the best solution because:
- They can be built next to existing non-toll lanes, making them easy to use.
- They can be maintained through toll collections without the need for tax money.
- Express toll lanes are demonstrated to be an effective solution to urban traffic congestion.
The price for using TBX lanes will vary according to motorist demand: when demand is lower, prices will be lower; when demand rises, so will the price. This is known as “dynamic pricing,” and it is used in the travel industry (hotels, airlines, rental cars), the utility industry (electricity and water), and other industries as well. While prices vary according to demand, it is important to remember that once you enter a TBX lane, the price is fixed at the price you entered. For more information go to www.tampabayexpress.com.