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Mobility study: Possible lane reductions, and/or removal of I-175

Mark Parker

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Interstate 175 in St. Petersburg. According to Whit Blanton, director of Forward Pinellas, the city uses just 40% of I-175's capacity, and the group’s mobility study projections show the highway remaining at 40% capacity through 2045. Photo: Dan TD/Wiki Commons

St. Petersburg officials continue to explore modifications to the city’s downtown transportation infrastructure – including the possible removal of I-175 – to adopt a multimodal vision, increase safety and reestablish community connections.

During Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, city council members heard the results of an extensive downtown mobility study led by Forward Pinellas, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and city staff. Officials conducted substantial traffic analysis, forecasting models and public outreach as part of the study.

Evan Mory, director of transportation and parking management for the city, and Whit Blanton, director of Forward Pinellas, presented the committee with the final report, focusing on project priorities and an action plan. The most significant debate centered around removing or reducing the size of I-175 and transforming one-way streets to allow travel in both directions.

“Each of the main projects we have recommended to go forward are complex, major projects,” said Mory. “In terms of 3rd and 4th Street, 8th and Martin Luther King and 175, in particular.”

Priority One projects, with a completion date within 15 years, as identified by the mobility study. Screengrab.

Blanton said forecasts show downtown St. Petersburg growing from 30,000 residents to 45,000 by 2045. Similarly, employment downtown is projected to increase from 45,000 to 58,000 in the next 15 years. Data shows that 43% of all crashes in the area occur on one-way pairs, which account for 17% of the downtown street network.

Through case-study research and analysis, Blanton found that two-way streets are safer, improve business accessibility and promote more livable communities. He also noted that 18 U.S. cities transformed their freeways into community assets.

Research showed that redesigning highways increases walking and biking, economic opportunity, environmental quality and neighborhood connectivity. It also found that ambulance services are more concerned with the smoothness of transportation rather than travel times – although officials must continue to address how changes may affect emergency responses and hospital access.

As part of the study, officials held over 10 community conversations, nine listening sessions and compiled over 1,000 responses through four surveys. Blanton said public outreach would continue through the process.

“There’s never a transportation project that makes everybody 100% satisfied in every corner,” said Blanton. “But I think we’ve done a lot to mitigate some initial concerns and help people feel like their partners in this process.”

Blanton said officials recently elevated potential I-175 modifications to a Priority One classification. Over the next one to three years, the city will assess engineering options for the 1.37-mile stretch of interstate that leads into downtown. Blanton said the FDOT committed funding to evaluate three scenarios: leaving the highway untouched, a conversion to create a boulevard and completely elevating the span to create connectivity underneath.

Blanton said FDOT hired a consultant and started the evaluation process, and he expects to have the results later this year.

“And once they determine what’s feasible and there’s no red flags, then we would engage the public …,” he said. “We want to be ready … by looking at the land-use, urban design and equity in the area and have a community-driven effort with the adjoining neighborhoods and businesses that are affected to assess how we would use any reallocated space in this corridor.”

If the city keeps the interstate, it could also reduce it to two lanes in each direction, which Blanton said would free up several hundred thousand square feet for commercial space, affordable housing or other community amenities.

He said the city is exploring funding options for the project, including the federal Reconnecting Communities program, which offers a $1 million competitive grant.

“We don’t think we’re ready for construction money,” said Blanton. “But we do think we’re ready for planning money that could augment and complement the Florida Department of Transportation’s efforts.”

The FDOT focuses more on transportation aspects, and Blanton said the federal grant would explore potential uses for added space provided by modifying or eliminating the interstate.

A map showing how I-175 split historically Black neighborhoods. “You can’t undo the past, but you can try to make good decisions for the future,” said Mory.

Mory showed council members a picture from the 1960s before the interstate divided historically Black communities in St. Petersburg.

“Not only do we want to look at better connections, but could we bring in affordable housing; could we bring in some businesses?” asked Mory. “Not to replace what was there before, but to start to try to improve that.

“You can’t undo the past, but you can try to make good decisions for the future.”

Blanton said that any construction on I-175 would take between seven and 15 years.

Councilmember Brandi Gabbard asked if the Tropicana Field redevelopment plan would include the modification or removal of the interstate and any land that would provide the city. Mory said the two projects should exist separately, but the city should coordinate the plans.

“I don’t think they should be completely combined,” said Mory. “But they certainly cannot be completely excluded.”

Acting as the Committee of the Whole, members of the St. Petersburg City Council heard the final recommendations from the downtown mobility study. Screengrab.

Councilmember Ed Montanari noted that St. Petersburg is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state. He said removing interstates and traffic lanes in an area that remains “car-centric” concerns him.

He added that as other parts of the region increase traffic capacity, the city contemplates taking lanes away, even though congestion on the city’s thoroughfares has increased.

“I just think that we’re going to take a relatively efficient grid system in the City of St. Petersburg and do some damage,” said Montanari.

Mory said I-275 is the cause of most of the city’s traffic congestion – and the interstate will soon receive express lanes that could reduce the number of people taking local streets from north to south. He added that not all of the projects call for lane reductions and that the most pertinent question was if I-175 needs an eight-lane width.

He said surface roads would receive additional lanes if the city loses I-175, and if modified, it would keep one or two lanes in each direction.

Blanton said the city uses just 40% of I-175’s capacity, and the study’s projections show the freeway remaining at 40% capacity through 2045.

“So, I feel very confident that there is a lot of room to work with here,” said Blanton. “One thing about Pinellas County, we have the shortest journey to work travel time – among the shortest – of any urban area in Florida.”

Blanton added that ensuring workers across all income levels have access to nearby affordable housing is critical to reducing congestion and keeping travel times down.

The committee approved a motion to bring a formal resolution accepting the study’s findings and action plan to an upcoming city council meeting. Montanari voted no, with Councilmembers Lisette Hanewicz and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman absent.

 

 

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    William Stover

    May 23, 2022at3:12 pm

    are the I-175 plans being brought forward by the same geniuses who designed 1st Ave N and 1st Ave S modifications ?!

  2. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    May 23, 2022at6:10 pm

    Yes! I-175 should go! And, the land under I-375 would be better utilized as affordable housing. The fewer cars in downtown St Pete and along Central the better. Walking and bike riding are better exercise! I would also like to see Bayshore and the other roads along the Bay walkmade one lane with the other lane for bicycles and faster moving “foot traffic” like like roller blades and scooters. That would be much safer and peaceful for bicyclists and walkers. Especially with the anticipated population surge.

  3. Avatar

    Jim

    May 23, 2022at6:38 pm

    The city needs to careful what they do here. Freeway removals are often advertised as better than they are in reality. The prime example is Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco. It’s supposed to be a wonder of freeway removal, but it has lead to constant gridlock, the death of many bicyclists from drivers making illegal turns onto the freeway that remains, and arguably set the stage for major gentrification of a previously POC neighborhood.

  4. Avatar

    John Donovan

    May 23, 2022at6:40 pm

    I-175 carries traffic in and out of USF St Petersburg, and two major hospitals. It’s not a problem that its 45% utilized. Count your blessings. In my guess-timation, most bike lanes aside roads in St Petersburg are probably under 2% (two) utilized. Should we keep those?

  5. Avatar

    Steve

    May 23, 2022at7:44 pm

    The removal of I-175 is the single most important infrastructure proposal in our City from an equity and inclusion perspective. Reconnecting the City grid promotes a more walkable City with enhanced multi-modal transportation opportunities. With the 450 feet ROW gone, there is significant additional space for new businesses and affordable housing. Look at the map: 33 acre Campbell Park is THE city park for the future Trop Site redevelopment. I-175 has effectively walled off South St Pete physically, emotionally, and financially from participation in our City’s progress and opportunity for far too long. Remove it and begin to heal these wounds and reconnect our City. The time is now!!

  6. Avatar

    Mike Connelly

    May 23, 2022at11:44 pm

    Replace the concrete jungle with Green Benches. You don’t own a car …. It owns you 🤕

  7. Avatar

    Andy

    May 24, 2022at6:41 am

    Have the City become the “Barry Army’….way to waste money and replace a valuable asset both today and the future, Clearly the study of I 175 has missed the growing mess on the volume of 275. So the views seems if the road is only 40% utilized then it is superfluous it should be down graded or removed? The PC view is that 175 divided black communities and somehow the removal of the highway or turning it into a property level road would redress this grievance, yet alone mix traffic and pedestrians is a great idea. I hope this waste of money ends up on the ballot, where it can be kicked out….We don’t need this.

  8. Avatar

    David B

    May 24, 2022at6:44 am

    I can’t envision FDOT ever agreeing to tear down a highway, there’s no money in that for their cronies. They’re all about build, build, build more highways.

  9. Avatar

    Donna

    May 24, 2022at8:22 am

    Bravo Andy! D’accord!

  10. Avatar

    Donna

    May 24, 2022at12:48 pm

    William Stover, yours is, without doubt, the majority opinion on First Avenues North and South!

  11. Avatar

    Heather Rossi

    May 24, 2022at2:55 pm

    Dear Mike, Re: Green benches
    Just in case you didn’t know. My apologies 1st. But, the green benches were only for the white folks. So that is a sore spot for African American community. So I’ll vote “No” on the green benches.

  12. Avatar

    Natalie

    May 24, 2022at4:15 pm

    As a Senior citizen and downtown condo resident I use I-175 a lot. I think what has been done to MLK, and First Avenues North and South is terrible. Why study what is not needed. Someone is making a lot of money from constant studies.

  13. Avatar

    Deborah Dean

    May 24, 2022at5:04 pm

    Who the heck in their right mind thinks biking & walking in central Florida 6 months out of the year is a good idea? If you want to arrive at your destination soaked in sweat or with heat exhaustion, fine. If you want to improve things for public transit, provide shaded bus stops & decrease intervals between buses. I’m all for changing 3rd/4th streets & 8th/9th(MLK) back to 2 way streets. Get rid of 175? Sure, as long as y’all get rid of the severely underutilized bike lane on southbound MLK north & pretty much every other thoroughfare. I drive MLK + along 1st Aves N&S and have seen less than 10 total bikes using the lanes removed from auto use since they have been in existence. I hear the arguments that bikes have as much right to the roads as cars but I am not aware that bicyclists pay any kind of road use tax, so unless someone can prove me wrong, then no, they don’t have as much right. It’s safer for everyone if bikes are ridden on secondary roads not thoroghfares. No amount of removing roadway access to cars is going to force folks into using public transit, bikes, or feet. It does, however, make a lot of people really mad.

  14. Avatar

    Donna S

    May 24, 2022at5:57 pm

    I live on 8th st S and look forward to all of the one way streets changing to 2 way. Will be interesting to see how that will work at each end where it merges with 9th.
    I 175 needs to go to remove the divide in the city.

    On a different topic, seems most of the affordable housing is being built south of Central. If this continues our city will still be divided. Rich and not so rich!
    I hope this changes with affordable housing throughout the city and higher end housing south as well as north.

  15. John Avery

    John Avery

    May 24, 2022at7:56 pm

    Hey Hey, Ho Ho, 175 has got to go! Mr. Mayor, city council, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!

  16. Avatar

    Adam Cabot

    May 25, 2022at12:01 am

    Knock it down as well as The Trop. Lease is done in 2027. Put a lot of low income property there for people. That’s what they did with that other building.

  17. Avatar

    Karen

    May 25, 2022at7:05 am

    Seems to me that people didn’t do their research before voting for this mayor and board members. Keep voting for the D people. You get what you vote for. Stop complaining or do some actual research on candidates before you vote. At hey want rid of 175 so they can build more low income housing. Not sure how that will work right next to the million dollar condos lol.

  18. Avatar

    Jonno Woofə

    May 26, 2022at12:27 am

    I have some views on this issue.

    I live right near this road in question and if it’s underutilized then tear its ass out, come up with a MUD model that places Living Wage Housing (like Dick Nixon wanted for the new cities of the sunbelt) in walkable proximity to a light rail network that connects the whole of the Bay area. Now is that in keeping with the Gesamtkunstverken vision of unified cities unified with other cities??? Or what… 100 years of meditation on such dreams pert near time to make good on them for Walt and all those that dream of Florida as destined to lead this nation out of its fifty year spiral into mediocrity. Thank you

  19. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    June 1, 2022at7:06 am

    Wow, something else to do. Lives already destroyed and cannot be restored. Most have died. Reconnect what neighborhoods???Folks just want to tear down stuff with no real helpful plan to go forward. Why was the Hwy put there???

  20. Avatar

    Dave J

    June 13, 2022at4:59 pm

    Another example of unaccountable career bureaucrats spending taxpayer money with no thought or care for what the taxpayers want and need; no effective oversight from politicians. Demolishing the I-175 feeder with outsized growth in DTSP now occurring and forecast for the future is insanity. Is it not bad enough how the I-375 ramp to 4th Ave N has been re-built into clogged mess unable to efficiently handle any minimal traffic load coming into the city? The rest of downtown, has likewise, been bumped-out, lane-reduced and road-dieted to become an increasingly clogged mess. What used to be a smart stop light grid in downtown is now a hodge-podge inefficient mess of snarled, slow, fuel-wasting stop and go traffic. Other than the bureaucrats and politicians who raked in the public money for the disaster called Sunrunner, the people who pay the bills and now have to commute through that corridor are unanimously stunned and disgusted by that monumental example of inefficiency and waste, destroying what was once an smooth-running corridor with timed stop lights all the way to Pasadena. Thank goodness for Ed Montinari – unfortunately, one rational-thinking voice in government is not near enough.

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