The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), District Seven has concluded a Design Change and Right-of-Way Re-evaluation to evaluate and document proposed changes to the originally approved Type II Categorical Exclusion (CE) and subsequent Re-evaluation for I-275 (SR 93) from south of 54th Avenue South to north of 4th Street North in Pinellas County, Florida. On May 19, 2020 FDOT and FDOT’s Office of Environmental Management (OEM) pursuant to 23 U.S.C. 327 and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dated December 14, 2016 and executed by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the Design Change and Right-of-Way Re-evaluation for Work Program Item Segment Number: 424501-1 I-275 (SR 93) from south of 54th Avenue South to north of 4th Street North Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study.
A Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study was conducted for the 16.3-mile corridor to analyze the need for operational improvements and evaluate the location, conceptual design, and social, economic, and environmental effects of any proposed improvements. Following a Public Hearing held on September 29, 2015, FHWA approved the Type II CE for this project on July 15, 2016.
Following approval of Type II CE, FDOT performed a Design Change Re-evaluation in 2017 to evaluate a change to the approved Typical Section of Segment C (from Dr. MLK, Jr. Boulevard to north of 4th Street North). This 2017 Re-evaluation assessed the repurposing of one of the two approved express lanes to accommodate the provision of three general use through lanes, one auxiliary lane, and one express lane in each direction for this segment of the study corridor. The 2017 Design Change Re-evaluation was approved by FDOT on April 26, 2017.
The current Design Change and Right-of-Way Re-evaluation evaluated impacts of further changes to the previously approved PD&E studies. The current re-evaluation assessed the impacts of accommodating the addition of two express lanes on I-275 in Segment B from north of I-375 to south of Gandy Boulevard and the addition of a second express lane in Segment C from Gandy Boulevard to north of 4th Street North. These proposed improvements would tie-in with planned improvements to the Howard Frankland Bridge (FPID 4229042 and 4229044).
The current re-evaluation also analyzed replacing the I-275 ramp bridges on 4th Street North over Big Island Gap, providing trail connections from the Howard Frankland Bridge to 4th Street North and Ulmerton Road, and ramp connection modifications at the Gandy Boulevard interchange. To meet drainage and stormwater requirements, pond sites will be needed to accommodate new impervious surface due to widening to accommodate express lanes. Several of these new pond site locations will be outside of the existing right-of-way. FDOT is conducting an Environmental Look Around (ELA) to identify opportunities to reduce or eliminate right-of-way required for pond sites as identified through the Re-evaluation. The ELA is ongoing and will be completed during the design phase.
I-275 is a limited access urban interstate highway facility that runs in a north and south direction through Pinellas County. The posted speed limit is 65 miles per hour. Within the project limits, I-275 is a divided highway comprised of two travel lanes with one auxiliary lane in each direction from south of 54th Avenue South to I-375. From I-375 to north of 4th Street North, I-275 is a divided highway comprised of three travel lanes with one auxiliary lane in each direction. Due to a series of existing left-hand entrance and exit ramps, there are no continuous travel lanes on I-275 in the southbound direction and only one continuous travel lane in the northbound direction. To improve traffic flow on I-275, operational improvements are needed to increase the number of continuous lanes.
Study Purpose and Need
The purpose of this project is to provide for operational improvements that maximize capacity within the I-275 corridor, improve lane continuity, and connect I-275 within Pinellas County to the future network of express lanes planned for the Tampa Bay Region. Improvements are needed within the I-275 corridor to help improve existing traffic congestion, enhance safety, and better accommodate future travel demands associated with projected growth in employment and population. The addition of express lanes is included in the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).
I-275 is a vital link in the local and regional transportation network and serves as a critical evacuation route. As a major north-south corridor through Pinellas County, I-275 links the Tampa Bay Region with the remainder of the state and the nation supporting commerce, trade, and tourism. Preserving the operational integrity and regional functionality of I-275 is critical to the mobility and economy of the Tampa Bay Region.