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Down the road: What’s the future of I-175?

Josette Green

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The I-175 footbridge. File photo.

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The question is a familiar one, asked on every tour: Is it due to “this day of the week” or “this time of day” that there are no cars on this road? We stand on the footbridge overlooking I-175, a 1.3-mile spur extending from I-275 east towards the bay. Despite its 44 years of existence, it operates at only 40% capacity, and notably absent are not just cars but any type of commercial truck.

As a local historian, I lead walking tours of Campbell Park. Our tour concludes with a walk up this footbridge, offering a view of an ugly barrier in this otherwise beautiful park. This sight leaves every group profoundly affected, with many describing it as “jarring.”

One of the outcomes of the 2022 St. Petersburg Downtown Mobility Study highlighted I-175 as deserving of further study. Conceived in the 1960s, I-175 was part of the highway infrastructure initiative that prioritized commuter convenience over consideration for the communities it affected, often causing destruction in its path. During this era, cars reigned supreme.

The selection of land for such projects followed federal guidelines that, troublingly, often targeted marginalized communities. In St. Petersburg, the current location of I-175 was influenced by the Negro Segregation Project of 1936, which enforced the relocation of African American residents to areas south of 6th Ave. South. This highway became a stark physical barrier, creating a clear divide in our city.

After 44 years in operation, the impact of the 1960s highway experiment is now clear. The St. Petersburg Downtown Mobility Study highlights significant findings: Extensive air pollution, higher accident rates, broken street grid, low car utilization, a physical and social barrier and more. The mobility study can be found on the city’s official website.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has recognized the need for further study and allocated $800,000 in their FY 25 budget, starting July 2024. This funding will study various options for I-175 and will be holding community input sessions.

As a resident of the community most affected by I-175, I urge you to study this issue and participate in these sessions to voice informed opinions. To better understand firsthand, I invite you to visit the footbridge at 12th St S, just north of 7th Ave. South. Witness for yourself why the view from there is often described as “jarring.”

We now have an opportunity to explore innovative ideas for this underutilized roadway that damages and divides our city, paving the way for a brighter future for all residents. Before dismissing the idea with “you can’t take away my road,” consider this: we can reimagine I-175 to accommodate not just cars, but also bikes and pedestrians and removing the barrier wall. This inclusive approach invites everyone to participate in shaping the future of I-175.

 

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Peter Sabine

    July 14, 2024at9:20 pm

    lets also tear down I 275

  2. Avatar

    Peter Sabine

    July 14, 2024at9:18 pm

    why not build over it then we still keep a important exit road way into the city and out for storms. Tear it down then lets see how u like sitting in traffic for a storm. Just turn it into a tunnel and go on with life

  3. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    July 11, 2024at4:38 pm

    To better understand this issue we should all read the book:”The 1619 Project” chapter 16 titled traffic. Mayor Welch recommended this book when interviewed on the Connect with Carla B podcast Ep19.

  4. Avatar

    Donna S

    July 10, 2024at2:07 pm

    So happy this is happening! I live on 8th st S (one way north)that is constantly busy with cars coming off of 175 and heading downtown. Several years ago CBS Sunday Morning did a piece on highways that purposefully divided city racially and that the government is funding to have these highways removed. I was so happy that people here were also aware of this funding and decided to look at removing 175!
    Get rid of the divide!!!
    Also Looking forward to 8th St and 9th (MLK) changing to two way streets!
    Would like to see timelines projected for these projects.

    When and where are the focus groups for these projects?

  5. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    July 9, 2024at11:53 pm

    The article is a narrow view based on the past. It’s 2024, Beyond the hospitals, There is no mention of USFSP in this article. Nor of access in just a few blocks to The Dali, Whitted Airport, Ronald McDonald House, The Innovation District, The Mahaffey Theater, the South Harbor, Al Lange, The Hilton, The The vital Coast Guard station, Saturday Morning Market, nor multiple new hi- rises that sold out pre-construction, etc. please adjust and update your past perceptions.

  6. John Avery

    John Avery

    July 9, 2024at6:31 pm

    It’s time to tear down this wall and reconnect the community south of the Trop to downtown.

  7. Avatar

    Lucy Sage

    July 9, 2024at5:50 pm

    Among other issues, I-175 is a barrier to integration and a vestige of segregation.

  8. Avatar

    John Donovan

    July 9, 2024at2:29 pm

    If I-175 is removed, it will be replaced by a redesigned and likely wider and maybe even more traffic active 5th Ave S. And waiting at traffic lights on the way to one of two hospitals. Not a park or playground.

  9. Avatar

    David B.

    July 9, 2024at9:12 am

    I fully support efforts to reimagine how we use the I-175 space. Many communities across the country are rethinking the interstates that run through and divide their cities. As the article notes, when the interstate system was built it often destroyed Black communities and served to further segregate cities. That’s just a fact. That can’t be undone, but in 2024 people are much more interested in city spaces that promote walking and biking traffic and are not just 100% focused on cars. There’s federal money available now to rethink how our city best uses our roadways to strengthen our cities. Forward Pinellas is exploring some interesting options for reimagining I-175:
    https://ilovetheburg.com/st-pete-may-remove-i-175/

  10. Avatar

    Steven Morrison

    July 8, 2024at8:54 pm

    Great article explaining the I-175 issue and the chance to have a voice in it’s future. Waste of time, yet worth reading and then commenting? Mkay. FYI, Rays / Hines doesn’t like I-175 either, and St. Pete is growing in a lot more places than east of 4th Street these days (the original stated purposes of both I-175 and I-375). My guess is most people in favor of keeping this useless and offensive division of our City haven’t looked at it from the pedestrian perspective, or on a satellite image to appreciate what a massive waste of valuable space it is. As for the “hospital argument”, take a look at other cities and where their major downtown hospitals are located. You’ll quickly discover that adjacency to an interstate exit is uncommon, and obviously not necessary. For example, Tampa General Hospital, the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the Tampa Bay area, sits on Davis Islands, served by two bridges from Bayshore Blvd. Yet without interstate access, it ranks as the #1 hospital in Tampa Bay and for nearly two decades has been named one of the Nation’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. Removal of I-175 and replacement with a boulevard that reconnects and enhances a well-designed street grid is the answer.

  11. Avatar

    John Donovan

    July 8, 2024at5:59 pm

    Topic is a complete waste of time except for people who have a lot of time to waste. There is a $4 billion or more, 20 year investment in stadium, hotels, parks,retail,and residences about to be built adjacent to I-175. Let’s see how that goes first.

  12. Avatar

    Alessandra Craveiro

    July 8, 2024at4:28 pm

    Josette, hi! Could you please give more details about this new inclusive approach? For now, I think I-175 is a precious land for developers. As I live southside, I-175 is very important for our mobility, and it’s hard to see a day without a long line of cars waiting for the green light to turn into it. Considering that we will have more than 800 new apartments between Lake Maggiore and Coquina Key Plaza, the traffic is expected to increase in the next year or two. The new developments downtown are to be considered too, as they are nearer I-175 than I-375. How the southeast side will access I-275 without I-175? As you well know the barriers now are invisible and segregation is now economic with the gentrification of the Southside. I understand that there are many ways to promote the integration of both sides of the city, let’s discuss them.

  13. Avatar

    Page Obenshain

    July 8, 2024at4:19 pm

    Leave it alone, this is an important automobile exit when there is an accident, ambulance exit and entrance. And to and from a very rapidly growing population in downtown.

  14. Avatar

    Justin Cournoyer

    July 8, 2024at4:19 pm

    A lot of folks think of highways as permanent structures, or think theyve always been there. Many cities have removed underutilized divisive highways and replaced them with connected roadways. We are at such a great moment in history and have a unique opportunity in st pete to be the first city in florida to remove a highway! This is simply the right thing to do.

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