By Matt Wiley

A peculiar-looking hunk of metal glistens in the sun and greets the eyes of New Tampa and Wesley Chapel residents as they travel under I-75 on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. The shiny silver structure resembles a ladder stretching across BBD, waiting to be paved with asphalt so that it can one day carry commuters as the construction continues to expand the interstate between Fowler Ave. in Tampa and S.R. 56 in Wesley Chapel.

After closing BBD to both east- and westbound traffic overnight on March 1, workers from Prince Contracting Company installed a temporary overpass that will keep northbound I-75 traffic flowing over BBD as the construction to expand the interstate into three lanes in both directions continues. In April, Prince will begin to completely rebuild the interstate overpasses that cross over BBD, beginning with the northbound bridge.

“Everything was on rollers,” explains Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) spokesperson John McShaffery. “There was a bulldozer attached to the end of the whole thing to push (the bridge) across the supports. It only took about eight minutes for the major push, but the entire process took much longer. We had people looking out to make sure that traffic didn’t back up too far or onto the interstate.”

McShaffery says that the temporary bridge is owned by the state and is used in road projects all over Florida. It is built in ten-foot stretches, so it can be adjusted for different lengths, depending upon what different projects require.

According to an FDOT traffic report, the average daily traffic that travels on I-75 north of BBD is about 63,000 vehicles, while the average daily traffic that travels on I-75 south of the BBD interchange is 82,000 vehicles. On average, the daily traffic on BBD is about 53,000 vehicles south of I-75 and about 65,000 vehicles north of the interstate.

Before March 1, the 320-foot steel temporary bridge rested alongside the current BBD overpass. Once the bridge is paved, which is expected to begin sometime in April, northbound traffic will be diverted to the temporary bridge and southbound traffic will be diverted to the current northbound bridge while the southbound bridge is rebuilt.

After the southbound bridge is rebuilt, it will be reopened to normal southbound traffic while the northbound bridge is rebuilt. Northbound traffic will remain on the temporary bridge until the entire construction project is complete and the northbound bridge is rebuilt, which is estimated to take about two years.

McShaffery says that the new bridges will stand about eight feet higher than the current bridges to allow a clearance of 23.5 feet for a light rail line on BBD, should one ever be installed.

“It just made sense to (both) widen (the interstate) and be ready for a light rail system if it should happen,” McShaffery says. “We’re also preparing the Fowler and Fletcher interchanges.”

The $95-million, 11.4-mile I-75 widening project began in October 2011 and should be completed by the spring of 2016.

McShaffery says that FDOT is always in close contact with city and county agencies so that they can work together when their separate projects align. This way, he says, there is no wasted effort or money.

Prince Contracting Co. is the same company that is constructing the Gateway Bridge, which will soon connect Commerce Park Blvd. with New Tampa Blvd. in West Meadows, providing an alternate route to Tampa Palms from north of I-75, as well as relieving some of congestion on BBD.


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