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Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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'Malfunction' Moniker From Past Still Describes Revamped Junction

A little more than a year after the notorious intersection of interstates 4 and 275 in downtown Tampa was upgraded, traffic is again slowing down and sometimes grinding to a halt, and not just during rush hours. The convergence of the busy interstates remains a bottleneck. Merging from Ashley Drive is no longer a white-knuckle experience, but the going can be frustratingly slow for westbound traffic on I-4 trying to merge with I-275 traffic heading for the bay. It is disappointing that after an $81 million investment and four years of construction, the safer and more streamlined result still merits the moniker "Malfunction Junction." A state priority should be to move traffic faster through the intersection as welcomed improvements to I-275 and I-4 funnel more cars and trucks into the mix.
Surely if the state can spare hundreds of millions of dollars to help private, profitable railroads improve their freight tracks through the boondocks, it can find enough money to add a few lanes to an urban junction used by tens of millions of cars and trucks a year. It's a question of priorities. Now, westbound traffic approaching the intersection on I-4, after enjoying four fast-flowing lanes, quickly becomes cramped. One lane curves away to feed north-bound traffic onto I-275. Another lane disappears into downtown Tampa. Two lanes continue west and join two lanes of I-275 traffic. With ample warning, one of the I-4 lanes just ends, requiring all drivers to merge left. In light traffic, merging is easy. But if the two lanes of I-275 traffic are full and flowing, as they often are, all the I-4 traffic must temporarily condense itself into one lane, and one lane is not enough. That's been the problem for years. Making matters worse, aggressive drivers see the backup in the through-lane as an opportunity to beg or bully their way to an advantage. These cheaters stay in or even switch to the dead-ending lane even though signs warn that it goes nowhere. Highway officials have started calling such lanes a "cheat lane." The result of the lane's end is drivers slamming on brakes and traffic at times coming to a standstill. Scratches and black tire marks on the concrete wall where the lanes merge are evidence that the western terminus of I-4 remains a harrowing squeeze. Don't blame highway engineers. In the early 1990s they figured out what was needed and offered a solution that would have worked, except for one problem. It was going to cost $200 million to buy the necessary right-of-way to soften the curves and add lanes, flyovers and ramps. Less than half that much was available for the whole project. So a compromise was proposed. For a total of less than $90 million the most dangerous issues would be addressed. With major improvements planned for both I-4 and I-275, and traffic counts and crashes steadily increasing, highway officials had to do something. Now, with the concrete barely dry on the new junction, another upgrade is envisioned in long-range plans, but as before, no money is available to pay for it. The soon-to-be-built connection of I-4 to the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway - east of the I-275 junction in Ybor City - will offer interstate traffic another limited-access route through downtown, which will help. The connector road has been discussed for years and is overdue. The constant shortfall of construction money suggests the local legislative delegation needs to do a better job advocating for local transportation improvements. And it suggests that Florida's congressional delegation needs to make more noise about the unfair return on federal gas taxes collected in Florida. For decades Florida drivers have helped pay for highway earmarks in states with much less traffic and growth. But most important, every political and civic leader in Tampa should agree that packing four lanes of high-speed traffic into three lanes is an intolerable way to treat ourselves and to welcome our guests. If, instead of playing petty political games, our state and local leaders would agree on top priorities such as fixing the junction, it wouldn't now face another decade of malfunction. What You Said We started a thread in our online forums at www.tboforums.com asking readers whether they thought the intersection of interstates 275 and 4 in Tampa still deserved the nickname "Malfunction Junction." Here are some of their comments. •I don't think it will ever lose its name. A good mass transit system could iron out the rest. I avoid it as much as possible. jacque •While going north on 275 and east on I-4 is a vast improvement, west on I-4 and south on 275 is as bad if not worse than ever. And it's not the road; it's the drivers that insist on waiting until the absolute last nanosecond to get out of lanes that are ending, and even worse are the ones that jump over into the far right lane and use it for a passing lane, knowing it ends in 1,000 feet or less. A couple of well-placed troopers, a steep fine, 30 minutes waiting, and news folks filming it would fix the issue fast. Dustydragon •It doesn't malfunction. It seems to function okay when I'm traveling through it. I guess you can get upset with the amount of traffic but I find it easy to figure out where to go. Maybe someone who doesn't travel that way very often could have trouble sorting out which lane to be in to go where they want like when I travel through Atlanta. It's fun when you're on the highest overpass when you're going southbound on to the I-4 exit ramp from 275 - wheee! Donravings
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