New Howard Frankland span could include room for rails - FOX 13 News

New Howard Frankland span could include room for rails

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

The next upgrade of the Howard Frankland Bridge will probably look a lot different than the last addition. Several years ago, a newer, higher bridge was built, allowing separate spans for northbound and southbound traffic. Now it is time to replace the original span, and times have changed.

"Right now, we're looking at just replacing the bridge" FDOT's Ming Gao explained. "However there have been ideas about putting light rail on the bridge, doing bus rapid transit, different options. So in order to do that obviously you need a wider bridge."

Or a third bridge that might accommodate rail, bus rapid transit, toll lanes and/or car-pool lanes. Pinellas County voters consider a new mass transit tax in November 2014, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe predicts his constituents will consider a similar tax in 2015 or 2016.

Leaders in both counties consider mass transit to be critical in further economic development of the Tampa Bay area.

But building for future technologies will more than double the cost of the replacement span. Sharpe thinks "If you make a decision to go cheap early, it isn't necessarily in the best interests of the taxpayers," he told FOX 13 News, "because at some point if you to see the demand is so high you gotta go back and retrofit, it's a lot more expensive."

Other transportation officials agree. So do some citizen-advocates of mass transit.

"We need an aggressive plan, the community needs an aggressive plan, so people can get to and from work, so that tourists can get to and from business, and so we can move goods and services," said Kevin Thurman, who started a group called Connect Tampa Bay.

FDOT hosted two public hearings this week about the replacement bridge, and expects to finalize a design in early 2014. The existing span needs to be out of service by 2020 or 2025, and it will take four or five years to build its replacement.

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