The State Legislature has allocated $354 million to widen Interstate 275 in north St. Petersburg as part of a regional express lane system.
The significant project will add two toll lanes in each direction from the 4th Street North terminus at the Howard Frankland Bridge to 38th Avenue North. Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials also announced Wednesday that construction would commence in summer 2025.
In addition, FDOT will create a multiuse trail along Ulmerton Road. It will head west from I-275 to Feather Sound Drive.
In prepared statements sent to the Catalyst, Mayor Ken Welch called the announcement welcome news for residents, visitors and commuters. He noted that city officials have worked with Forward Pinellas and FDOT “for many years,” to modernize I-275 and the area’s transportation network.
“I was excited to support these efforts as a county commissioner and Forward Pinellas board member,” and count it a blessing to see it move closer to fruition as mayor,” Welch said. “I’m also thankful that we are still working towards that final extension here to downtown St. Pete – the anchor activity center on the western end of the I-4 corridor.”
Transportation officials believe the project will relieve congestion amid unprecedented growth. David Gwynn, FDOT District Seven secretary, said in the announcement that widening I-275 would improve connectivity and access throughout Tampa Bay.
“This project, when combined with the Howard Frankland Bridge, Gateway and Westshore Interchange projects, will continue the development of an express lane system between downtown Tampa, downtown St. Pete, Tampa International Airport and the Gateway and Westshore business districts,” Gwynn said.
The interstate improvements and trail will directly connect to the Gateway Expressway and Howard Frankland Bridge projects. The new $870 million bridge will feature four tolled express lanes, and FDOT expects construction to conclude in late 2025.
A bicycle path connecting both sides of the bay would also extend to 4th Street North. Workers poured a 20-foot concrete deck to support commuter rail service in July.
The $595 million Gateway Expressway will provide four elevated toll lanes from I-275 west to U.S. 19 and the Bayside Bridge. Richard Moss, FDOT’s regional transportation director, recently told city council members that the project is “getting close” to opening after pandemic-induced construction delays.
In January, Gov. Ron DeSantis requested $7 billion from lawmakers as part of his Moving Florida Forward initiative. While that would have funded 20 statewide projects, legislators only appropriated $4 billion.
St. Petersburg’s I-275 widening project is one of 18 moving forward. However, plans to extend the buffer-separated toll lanes to I-375 downtown, and “lane continuity” and other operational enhancements that will eventually extend past 54th Avenue South, await funding.
At a July 20 council meeting, Moss said ensuring the express lanes reached 54th Avenue South remained a priority. Evan Mory, the city’s transportation and parking director, called FDOT’s investments in local transit upgrades “unprecedented” at the meeting.
“These amounts of dollars and projects were not coming to St. Petersburg five or 10 years ago,” Mory added.
Local Sen. Nick DiCeglie, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that about 600 people move to the state daily. “Governor DeSantis’ Moving Florida Forward plan focuses on critical infrastructure improvements that will provide congestion relief, enhance economic development and increase safety,” DiCeglie said.
State officials allocated $1.59 billion from the Transportation Trust Fund at a Sept. 8 budget meeting to begin Moving Florida Forward’s first phase. Construction on two other regional projects will commence in the fall of 2024.
Those include a $192 million reconstruction of the I-75 Fruitville Road interchange in Sarasota from a cloverleaf configuration to a diverging diamond. FDOT will also widen State Road 70, an east-west Manatee County artery and evacuation route, in a $52 million project.
“Traffic complaints and driver safety concerns are the number one thing I hear about from Floridians in my role as chair of the House Transportation Subcommittee,” said Rep. Fiona McFarland. “These Moving Florida Forward investments will address both of those concerns, guaranteeing our transportation infrastructure is keeping pace with the demands of all our residents and visitors.”