Gov. Ron DeSantis announced funding for three major roadway projects in the Tampa Bay area Monday, with investments secured from a $2 billion infusion into the State Transportation Trust Fund approved in the state budget earlier this year.
DeSantis was joined by Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault at the Howard Frankland Bridge construction site — one of the projects prioritized with the new funding. A new span is being constructed just north of the existing bridge.
“This region is exploding. I was with Wilton (Simpson) the other day up in Pasco, and then drove down to Tampa. I’m like, just everywhere you look, there’s like a new community being built,” DeSantis said. “That’s great, but that also requires us to have that type of infrastructure in place that’s going to be able to support that, and so we’re doing that here in the Tampa Bay area.”
The $2 billion investment in transportation comes from the state’s $10.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds.
The first project includes expanding and improving the Howard Frankland Bridge, which the Governor said would “modernize the essential connection” between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
“These projects are all part of an interrelated set of projects to modernize Tampa’s interstate system,” DeSantis said. “All of these projects represent really historic investments in the region’s transportation network. This is an important thing.”
The funding will also pay for modernizing the Westshore Interchange, the primary connection point for residents of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, linking the Veterans Expressway, State Road 60 and Interstate 275.
In 2020, FDOT delayed the $1.4 billion project from 2024 to 2026 because of COVID-19-related budget cuts.
On Monday, Thibault explained the department will be segmenting the interchange construction into multiple contracts of various sizes, in order to allow more contractors to bid on the projects. Thibault also said the contract for the first phase (estimated at more than $400 million) will advertise in the fall of 2022, and advertisements for early work contracts may be put out as soon as this Fall.
“To accelerate the construction of Tampa’s Westshore Interchange, the department will be constructing the interchange in multiple segments,” Thibault said. “What we have done, working with the construction industry, is develop a series of diverse contracts that will attract a larger number of vendors to participate in, providing more job opportunities to the community, and still accomplishing the goal of improving mobility.”
The early phases of this project will include $560 million in direct investment into the local economy, DeSantis said. He added that total investment will exceed $1.2 billion and would impact 4,000 businesses, nearly 100,000 employees and those who travel via the Tampa International Airport.
The Governor noted the project as a priority for House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who was also at the press conference Monday.
“We realized that whether you live in Pasco County, Pinellas County, Hillsborough … this West Shore interchange matters for you,” Sprowls said. “Today is a great day to be from Tampa Bay. This is probably the most significant transportation infrastructure project that the state has undertaken in my lifetime. It will leave a lasting legacy for the Tampa Bay area and her continued growth.”
DeSantis highlighted a third project Monday — improvements to the Downtown Tampa Interchange between I-275 and I-4, a $150 million investment into the local economy.
“Currently drivers that use the downtown Tampa exchange experienced significant backups, and that’s really true no matter what day, time of the day it is,” DeSantis said. “This interchange is a key choke point (and) has been identified as one of the most congested interchanges for freight movement in the country, and it’s about time we do something about it.”