The Florida Department of Transportation says it has a back-up plan to create a dedicated lane for bus rapid transit on the new Howard Frankland Bridge in case the current plan for BRT doesn’t work out. A draft request for proposals to design and build the new bridge says each span will have four lanes of traffic, two express toll lanes and a bike and pedestrian trail.
It also said BRT would have to share the toll lanes with other paying motorists — putting those bus riders at risk of getting stuck in traffic just like anyone else trying to cross Tampa Bay’s busiest bridge. But a department spokeswoman told the Tampa Bay Times that if BRT doesn’t work as planned in the toll lanes the agency has a contingency plan: “If the express lanes are unable to provide reliable travel times for transit in the future, FDOT can restripe the bridge and shift lanes to provide for dedicated BRT operations on the shoulder,” said a statement the agency sent to the Times.
Creating a shoulder lane for BRT would not take away from any other lanes on the new Howard Frankland, according to the state. Much of the proposed 41-mile regional BRT plan depends on using the shoulder of Insterstate 275 to connect St. Petersburg, Tampa, the University of South Florida and Pasco County.
But when it comes to linking BRT across the bay, FDOT believes it doesn’t need to use the shoulder of the bridge to do so efficiently. “We have offered the shoulders for transit use on other areas of the interstate where reliable travel times cannot be provided,” said the FDOT statement. “However, we prefer not to use shoulders for bus lanes where other options are available.”
The other option are the two express toll lanes. The state said it is confident that plan for accommodating the proposed transit system on the bridge will work. DOT said it is placing “BRT operations in the express lanes because traffic projections show that we will be able to provide reliable travel times in the express lanes.” The real issue facing the Howard Frankland replacement and BRT, however, is that one project is ready to the other is still being conceived.
The RFP for the Howard Frankland will be advertised on Dec. 10. It is scheduled to be awarded in 2019 and it will be the largest contract in the history of DOT’s local Tampa Bay office: $814 million. BRT, on the other hand, is a years away from being vetted, funded or approved.