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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Dale Mabry exit closed, you'd better pack a lunch

Oh, this is going to be swell.

Tuesday night, if things went according to schedule, road crews closed the southbound exits off Interstate 275 onto Dale Mabry Highway. Estimates from the Florida Department of Transportation are it will reopen in about four months.

Transportation officials suggest you take another exit, such as Himes Avenue. Of course, it wasn’t that long ago they moved the Himes exit over to the other side of the interstate to make it more interesting watching motorists cut across three lanes at the last minute.

It could be they have it all figured out down to the last Bob’s barricade. My guess is that future generations are going to talk about the closure and its consequences in whispers as they compare it with the Great Snow of ’77, the hurricanes of 2004, the Frankenstein Bridge, the days of Malfunction Junction and maybe even the Green Band.

All of those, of course, are monumental events that have become legendary in these parts. This one should be right up there.

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If you were here for the Great Snow in 1977 and you areone of those who grew up in the white stuff, this might not seem like such a big deal. I mean, if it had snowed like that in Omaha you might have worn a Hawaiian shirt to the office.

But if you are a native and were here, you remember the snowmen that melted before noon, the cars slipping and sliding across the Davis Islands Bridge, the fender benders and the surreal landscape of Tampa blanketed in white.

A lot of you were around for the hurricanes that blew across the state in 2004. We had one chase our small convoy of cars that evacuated town only to have a storm follow us up the interstate toward Orlando. It made for one of Florida’s more stressful summers.

The Frankenstein Bridge, of course, was the original Howard Frankland Bridge, rough and bumpy from being built with saltwater and cement and with no escape from traffic accidents; it was a miserable and often terrifying trip across Tampa Bay.

Malfunction Junction was Tampa’s downtown interstate interchange, allegedly designed by Salvador Dalí after he ate a mushroom pizza. Now redesigned after millions of dollars, it already is overloaded and soon to be dysfunctional once again.

The Green Band was a part of the Malfunction Junction legend. The idea behind the experimental “green band” was that you would follow a series of green blinking lights up the Ashley Drive entrance ramp onto the interstate downtown, and the green band would send you safely into traffic. Fortunately, it was removed before too many people were hurt.

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So now comes the closing of the Dale Mabry exit off of I-275.

For Tampa, Dale Mabry is the Great White Way. Almost everything that is important in our lives is either on Dale Mabry or you have to drive on Dale Mabry to find it.

Dale Mabry is the way we get home. Our football stadium is on Dale Mabry. At the southern tip of the highway, the safety of the western world is in the hands of Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. Every food chain in America (except for my favorite Skyline Chili over in Clearwater) is on Dale Mabry.

It’s the home of the Village Inn, where you can get a solid omelet late at night, and a nudie bar with a flying saucer on top to give people on the road something to talk about.

It’s the main way to Boliche Boulevard for some cheap Cuban eats, or to get out to Carrollwood, where it seems a million people live.

I don’t know, the traffic might not be so bad after all, but if I were you I’d pack a lunch.


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