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National report recommends leveling portions of I-275 in Tampa

The report recommends removing bad highways to reconnect communities and strengthen transit..

Interstate 275 is ranked as one of the United States’ worst highways in a new national report by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).

The report recommends removing bad highways to reconnect communities and strengthen transit.

The highways chosen in the Freeways Without Futures report represent spans of highway that have had negative impacts on neighborhoods and local businesses by bifurcating communities. It’s the “wrong side of the tracks” sort of effect.

Removing them, the report’s authors say, offers a chance to correct decades of community division and restore vibrant public life to waterfronts, local streets and downtowns.

The 2019 edition of the biennial Freeways Without Futures report, issued this week, also highlights a local initiative called #blvdtampa, which seeks to bring attention to alternatives to widening the highway. That initiative focuses largely on the span of I-275 north of downtown Tampa that dramatically divided the city’s neighborhoods when it was built in the 1960s.

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The #blvdtampa project offers solutions to traditional highways including pedestrian-centered boulevards, streetcar networks, green space and commercial and residential transit-oriented development.

The initiative is the brainchild of urban designer Josh Frank who during the controversial Tampa Bay Express process that was eventually canceled, introduced a boulevard concept for the busy span of interstate that would bring vehicular transportation to street level and provide dedicated transit corridors and pedestrian friendly access.

His concept was included among several others in the Tampa Bay Next process through the Florida Department of Transportation’s reboot after TBX. Though it was heralded as a great idea by transit supporters, the concept has struggled to gain momentum.

But the economic benefits of #blvdtampa’s proposal are substantial, according to the report. Estimates to rebuild I-275 range from $3 to $9 billion, far more than constructing a street-level transportation corridor. Removing the highway would make available more than 35 acres of land for development, which would have a huge impact on local government as new properties entered the city and county’s tax rolls.

The CNU report is the sixth of its kind since 2008. The latest information comes as the idea of removing highways is becoming increasingly popular. Throughout the U.S., at least 17 cities have either committed to or already began replacing or mitigating major freeways since the late 1980s, according to the report. That includes San Francisco, Milwaukee and New York where cities managed to level highways without any reported adverse impacts on traffic.

“Local, state, and federal resources are declining,” said Lynn Richards, President and CEO of CNU. “We need to use investments that meet multiple community goals: enhancing all kinds of mobility, promoting economic development, creating jobs, and reimagining the possibilities for waterfronts, parks, and neighborhoods.”

Other highways listed in the report include I-10 in Louisiana, I-35 in Austin, I-345 in Dallas and I-5 in Portland. Kentucky, Colorado, New York and California also have highways that made the list.

CNU said it chose a jury of nationally recognized transportation experts to create this year’s ranking from a list of 29 nominated highways and freeways.

The panel reviewed each submission based on the age and state of the highway, the quality of alternative boulevard or street design, the feasibility of removal, community support for removal, existing political momentum, redevelopment opportunities, potential cost savings, and potential to improve access to opportunity for underserved communities.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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