No one will lose their home when the Florida Department of Transportation widens Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg.
FDOT has revised its initial plan so that no homes will be taken for the project, which will make lane continuity improvements on the interstate from south of 54th Avenue South to north of 4th Street North, Marshall Hampton, special projects administrator, told the St. Petersburg City Council. FDOT also plans express lanes on I-275 from I-375 to Gandy Boulevard.
The original plan drew fierce opposition at a public hearing last fall, when FDOT said 16 homes and additional land would be acquired for the project, including a parcel of land in The Deuces Live district, at the corner of 7th Avenue South and 22nd Street South. Residents feared taking the Deuces Live property would thwart economic development efforts in the historic Black community.
Now, instead of acquiring the land, FDOT is donating a parcel it owns in the area to the city of St. Petersburg for construction of a relocated Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.
Mayor Rick Kriseman announced a plan last year to move the museum from its current location at 2240 9th Ave. S. to a new site on 22nd Street South adjacent to the interstate. David Gwynn, secretary of FDOT District Seven, told Kriseman on Wednesday that the state would donate the land it owns for the project, said Evan Mory, the city’s director of transportation.
“We put in a request for the parcel on Monday and we had an answer by yesterday that they were willing to provide that to us,” Mory told council members who were meeting as a Committee of the Whole on Thursday.
“There really is a beautiful justification coming back full round with that,” said City Council member Darden Rice. “We know when the interstate was built in the ’70s it did tear through and destroy a number of traditional Black neighborhoods and businesses. Thank you for giving this property back to an area we’ve been working on for years to bring back to its former glory and potential.”
The I-275 project will improve capacity and reduce congestion on the interstate in St. Petersburg, Hampton said.
“This is more than just interstate,” he said. “We’re trying to get multi-modal approaches so we’re working with TBARTA, the area regional transit authority, on rapid buses, trying to see what’s the best way to move people around the area. What do people want and how can we get connectivity.”
Adding new pavement also means FDOT has to add ponds for the water that will run off the impervious surface.
Originally, FDOT identified the need for 12 new ponds for the project, four of them on land the state owns and eight of them located outside of FDOT-owned right-of-way that would have required 16 residential relocations.
After the public hearing last fall, FDOT did an “environmental lookaround,” or a process to explore alternative approaches to stormwater management.
As a result of that lookaround, the transportation agency determined it could instead increase capacity at an existing pond in the Woodlawn area, and could build a new pond on vacant land in the Toytown area, near Valpak. There’s a willing seller for that vacant land, Hampton said.
FDOT now is trying to formalize the I-275 plan in St. Petersburg and get permits approved, he said. The project isn’t slated to begin until fiscal year 2025.
The I-275 widening in St. Petersburg is one of 10 elements of the 90-mile interstate modernization project called Tampa Bay Next.
Another part of the Tampa Bay Next project is the Gateway project, connecting St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and U.S. 19 to I-275 through an elevated expressway and one express lane on I-275 from just south of Gandy to the Howard Frankland Bridge. The Gateway project is expected to be built by summer 2022, Hampton said.
FDOT has started the design process for improvements on the Howard Frankland Bridge as well, with construction expected to start in a couple of months, he said.
Tampa Bay Next also includes the Westshore interchange, a project to add lanes at I-275 and State Road 60, or Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. A part of the project should be completed next month, Hampton said.