A new Howard Frankland is rising, with tolls, bike lanes and room for rail

Long before she was big enough to sit behind a wheel, Paula Nelson-Blattner experienced the best and the worst of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
"As a kid, I always nervously asked my parents, 'Did you check your gasoline?'" Said Nelson-Blattner, 52, who got goosebumps crossing the concrete span as it perched on golf-tee-shaped pillars than 58 feet over the water of Old Tampa Bay. "Of course, once you're close enough to read the warnings, there's no gas station in sight, and it's far too late to turn back."
The “Check your Gas” signs on the Pinellas and Hillsborough sides don't just show the distance, about four miles from one end of the bridge to the other. They also signal the risk of getting stuck there for a while.
Since opening in January 1960, the bridge - mocked Howard Frankenstein, Car Strangled Spanner, and Frankland’s Folly - has proven to be the region's most frustrating bottleneck and its indispensable link.
The love-hate relationship continued even after the major bridge widenings opened in 1990 and 1992.
Now the State Department of Transportation is giving 60-year-old Howard Frankland another makeover for $ 865.3 million - most of it for building an entirely new bridge north of the existing spans. The work should be completed in 2026.
The collective bridges are named after William Howard Frankland, a Tampa rubber tycoon who spent years trying to convince local businessmen, civic leaders, and other members of the Florida Road Board that a third bridge across the bay would spur economic development and that one Location between Gandy Bridge and Courtney Campbell Parkway would be the perfect choice.
Frankland was right at the time. Interstate expansions followed, making it easier to live on one side of the bay and work on the other. The bridge also led to two of the region's major economic drivers - the West Shore District in Tampa and the Gateway Area in Pinellas County.
"It is at the heart of our region," said Beth Alden, executive director of Hillsborough County's MPO, "a hub that converges major arteries and provides access to Tampa International Airport and some of Florida's largest working districts."
The new expansion starts better than the last one anyway: a stubborn driver plowed into another vehicle at the “groundbreaking ceremony” and gave “the ceremony the right soundtrack of screeching tires and grinding”. Metal, ”reported the St. Petersburg Times.
The expansion also includes space for a possible future antidote to the ongoing traffic jams - a light rail line.
Originally built for 30,000 cars a day, the Howard Frankland Bridge averaged about 90,000 a day when overhauls in the 1990s widened the original four-lane carriageway to include the two fields and eight lanes now.
Today the bridge handles around 132,000 trips a day, making it by far the busiest route in the Tampa Bay area, said Kristin Carson, regional spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.
With an estimated 100,000 people expected to move to the area over the next 25 years, the Howard Frankland has become the centerpiece of a state plan to deal with the increase in traffic by adding nearly 160 miles of highways between states.
"If you look at the amount of future traffic on our roads, it's just huge," said Regional Transport Minister David Gwynn. "When that is done, we will have a transport infrastructure there that will serve us well for many years."
Just make sure it's safe, advises Nelson-Blattner, who grew up riding the bridge regularly - and told the story.
One day when she was a young mother, Nelson-Blattner and her young daughter followed another car that her grandmother and grandmother's nurse were carrying on a family outing to the Tampa Zoo. Suddenly the nurse's car died and she hit the brakes near the top of the hump.
"I had to load my elderly grandmother on to my shoulder in a Toyota 4 Runner, cars whizzed by," says Nelson-Blattner, who now lives in Tennessee. “The wind was relentless. My grandma just laughed the whole time while she struggled to climb in without knowing that she was dangling from the abyss of the Howard Frankland Bridge. "
Not all drivers were so lucky.
When the first field was opened, there were no warning lights and the oncoming traffic was only separated by a curb-high concrete center strip. The Times blew up the new bridge as a "death trap" under the headline "Seven Dead in Seven Months".
By the end of 1960, the number of deaths had risen to 10. Authorities responded by lowering the speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph, installing warning lights and surveillance cameras, erecting higher barriers, and in 1975 enforcing a state law banning lane changes on the bridge.
William Howard Frankland told the Tampa Tribune in 1975 that he wouldn't always welcome the range being named after him.
"When the damn thing is secured, it doesn't bother me nearly as much as the really bad accidents," said Frankland, who died in 1980. "I don't like to hear on the radio that I am two people in a four car wreck."
The new bridge will have eight lanes of traffic - four multi-purpose lanes for traffic from Tampa to St. Petersburg, two express toll lanes, and a 12-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path separated by a concrete barrier that connects existing paths on both sides of the bay.
Once the new span opens, the bridge, which now runs four lanes from Tampa to St. Petersburg, will be switched to northbound traffic and the current northbound bridge, which opened in 1960, will be demolished.
The new span can accommodate future transit options like self-driving cars, and a section will be built to carry heavier loads should voters one day approve plans for a light rail system.
"The bridge was truly a modern marvel for its time," said Gregory Deese, local engineer with the Department of Transportation. “But in the early 1960s, most bridges were designed to last 15 years, and with today's technology we are building bridges that can last up to 100 years. So for an old bridge that has been driven hard, it's really at the end of its life. "
That month, the department announced that people who responded to a state survey preferred square schooner sail sculptures to more modern triangular sail designs to adorn the new bridge. The nautical theme reflects public art installed along some of the other busiest streets in the Tampa Bay area - Bayside Bridge and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, Pinellas County's Gateway Area, Tampa's West Shore District, and the Interstate 275, US 19, and 118th Avenue corridors.
The old Howard Frankland Bridge has no public art.
Traffic officials have yet to disclose how much it will cost to use the bridge's express toll lanes, only that the price will go up and down based on real-time demand. Previous forecasts were 15 cents to $ 2 a mile. Drivers can see their estimated travel time for the bridge before entering the toll lanes.
The fee is suspended if evacuations are ordered. There are no fees for those using public transport.
Everyone will benefit from the extra lanes, even if they don't choose to pay for the toll lanes, Deese said.
"And just knowing that this will dramatically improve response times for emergency and accident management vehicles is a huge relief," he said.
As bridge travelers know, the new span is taking shape - in the form of some 3,000 steel and concrete pillars driven into the bed of old Tampa Bay to form a tall spine called piers. If lined up, these pillars would stretch for 40 miles.
The design and construction are a joint venture between Archer Western Construction LLC, based in Atlanta, part of the Walsh Group, and civil engineering company Traylor Bros. Inc. of Evansville, Ind.
Work began in November and builders were able to accelerate the pace as the coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay home and take much of the traffic off the bridge.
One day that month, small boats brought pile drivers, inspectors and surveyors between land and the barges with equipment that the crews use to hammer the piers into the bottom of the bay.
A diesel engine lifts a large hammer 3 feet above a column, then releases it and drops the hammer in a rhythmic "shhh-BOOM, shhh-BOOM". The hammers weigh up to 47,000 pounds, the same as a whale shark. The 2½ foot wide pillars on each side are driven at a slight angle to provide more stability against wind movement, traffic on the roadway and in the event of a ship attack.
On board the barge, an inspector counts every stroke, about 20 of them, to move a column only 1 inch down. The hammer won't stop until the inspector is certain the pillar cannot go deeper into the limestone bedrock - uneven terrain that can anchor one pier at 49 feet and the next at 170 feet.
Sensors attached to the pillars ensure their safety. The columns protrude from the water at different heights and form jagged rows about a dozen in diameter, which are more reminiscent of supports for a roller coaster than a roadway. Once they're all in place, the crews cut the tops to the same height and pour another layer of concrete to encase them. This phase should be completed in November.
The pillars are numbered from east and west to the center, so the two highest on the hump of the new bridge are called Pier 56 West and Pier 56 East.
Then you can start pouring the foundations, supports and caps - the substructure of the bridge. Finally comes the superstructure - 1,727 concrete beams stretching 48 miles when put together, followed by a deck and the 8 inch thick concrete deck.
“At some point,” said Deese, “it looks like a bridge. Slowly but surely."

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