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New Howard Frankland Bridge to handle rail – but not Brightline

Veronica Brezina



Construction of the new Howard Frankland Bridge as of August 2023. All images: FDOT District 7.

Hundreds of workers are pouring concrete and installing beams for the new $865.3 million Howard Frankland Bridge project. The new bridge will replace the current crossing, and include a section designated for potential light rail. 

“I’m really proud of the work they’ve [construction crews] made. We’ve been fortunate the weather has been cooperative this year. It’s a tough project to build out there on the water after winds get too high and cranes have trouble, but they’ve been able to make great progress,” David Gwynn, District 7 secretary of the Transportation for Florida Department, said at the Nov. 15 Pinellas County Commission meeting. “We have set up the middle of it to be strong enough to accommodate light rail in the future, should that be something that materializes.” 

The new bridge, which has been under construction since 2020, will have eight lanes: Four general use lanes and four express lanes; two lanes from St. Petersburg and two lanes from the Tampa side. Plus a separated bicycle/pedestrian pathway, and a centered lane for light rail, on both north and south bridges. 

The new bridge is on schedule to open in late 2024. The following year, FDOT will finish the final touches and demolish the original 1960 structure. 

“I get asked if it [the new bridge] will accommodate Brightline – no, it won’t,” he said.

The lanes and separation for the new Howard Frankland Bridge.

The Miami-based intercity passenger Brightline train system first launched service in Florida in 2018, linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. In 2022, the line was extended to Boca Raton and Aventura. 

In September, the company opened a hub at the Orlando International Airport and said there would be a future link to Tampa. Previous plans showed the trains would ride along the Interstate I-4 envelope and extend to the Ybor City area. 

Many transit advocates have expressed support for rail and other modes of transportation as solutions to alleviate congestion on local bridges. 

“If you were going to accommodate heavy rail, you pretty much have to have a separate bridge because it would require much heavier infrastructure than light rail would,” Gwynn said. 

The American Public Transportation Association defines a heavy-rail system as an electric railway that runs on an exclusive right-of-way. Light rail systems, resembling connected tram cars, generally accommodate a smaller passenger volume. 

Commissioner Janet Long, who served on the dissolved Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority board, questioned if the trams transporting passengers to the different airsides at the Tampa International Airport would be an example of the type of rail the bridge could handle. 

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any [light rail] nearby you could point to. A commuter rail like SunRail in Orlando or Brightline uses a big diesel engine like a freight train,” Gwynn said. “A commuter rail system is one that probably stops every three to four miles and comes once an hour, whereas light rail is nimbler. It can stop every half mile and can stop and start quicker and is very much lighter.” 

The SunRail system has 16 stations along a 61-mile former CSX Transportation line. 

During Gwynn’s presentation, Commissioner Rene Flowers, who also previously served on the TBARTA board, asked if CSX is still opposed to selling its “dead” rail lines – an asset local government has long eyed to acquire for rail. 

Gwynn said CSX is refusing to sell the lines, as the region does not have a solidified plan and funding commitment from agencies to operate a rail system on the lines running through the neighboring counties. 

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  1. Avatar

    Steve Tevlin

    November 22, 2023at10:04 am

    Steve Tolliver, I wonder how a billion dollar bridge will help the traffic flow going into Tampa when the backups occur at the exits a mile away. And I drove that route back in the 60’s going to USF. Are you the Steve Tolliver that worked at NPC?

  2. Avatar

    Bradley Rupska

    November 21, 2023at11:43 pm

    Maybe they can use the existing bridge for heavy rail traffic and accommodate fishing also?

  3. Avatar


    November 20, 2023at11:15 am

    Picture shows 12 lanes. Is the pic wrong or the wording for the number of lanes? Or some combination with the existing bridge?

  4. Avatar

    Richard Jones

    November 18, 2023at11:41 am

    The Brightline from Orlando to Miami and if extended to Tampa would also be great. I would also like to see Daytona to both. There is one problem when I took the Brightline from Orlando to Miami I had to park my car and it’s obvious the powers to be didn’t plan for parking by adding the Brightline. Had to park
    In the South Park Lot ended up parking in a grassy area. E24. Then had to stand in the hot sun for 20 minutes waiting for a shuttle there was no cover. If it would had been raining we would have been soaked. They better fix this fast because I might think twice before using the Brightline again. The train ride was great and would do it again if they fix the parking problem.

  5. Avatar

    Steve Tolliver

    November 18, 2023at10:58 am

    All those lanes and it still narrows down to 1 lane on the eastbound side to get to the Tampa Int’l Airport and Veterans Expressway. Why haven’t they fixed that?

  6. Avatar

    Adam rejila

    November 17, 2023at6:28 pm

    Will be nice if u keep the old bridge for fishing and walking and we need brightline train from st Pete to Miami and Orlando please

  7. Avatar

    Bobby Albertson

    November 17, 2023at2:26 pm

    Csx offered their freight line thru Pinellas from Tampa. It would tie in perfectly with the bridge and can be utilized for. Small rail line to help get
    People to and from the beaches/airport . To st Pete and the ball games too. It’s really a simple solution

  8. Avatar

    Leon rabitor

    November 17, 2023at11:49 am

    No fishing Accommodations from the bridge CT Ty

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