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I-275 repairs could be done by 2006

After years of backups, crashes and overall chaos, Tampa breathed a sigh of relief this fall as the new and improved Interstate 275 between the Busch Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue exits became construction free.

But the yellow lights and orange signs are back, now just a few miles down the road.

John McShaffrey, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said a project is now underway to repair the Interstate 4/I-275 interchange, regarded as one of the most dangerous in Florida. The project, now in its infancy, has a beginning price tag of $80 million.

This, McShaffrey said, will not be an overnight fix. He said the current completion date is not until the summer of 2006. That will certainly change as Florida’s unpredictable weather and other factors wreak havoc on construction schedules.

But, McShaffrey said, the new interchange will solve many of the traffic problems and safety hazards that have given it the apt nickname “Malfunction Junction.”

Key among the changes will be a new bridge to carry cars from southbound I-275 to eastbound I-4. Upon completion of the bridge, cars will merge onto the interstate on the right side. Cars now merge from the left into the fast lane, which has created a safety hazard.

In addition, McShaffrey said barriers will be constructed on exit ramps, separating traffic and eliminating some of the jockeying for positions that presently occurs.

“It’ll take away a lot of the opportunity for traffic to weave back and forth,” McShaffrey said. “It’ll take care of a lot of that by making traffic make their decision before the interchange.”

Another important change will be additional length on entrance ramps. McShaffrey said that by giving traffic a long merging zone, cars should no longer be stopped on the interstate.

“We’ll greatly increase safety and reduce weaving,” McShaffrey said.

The need for this project had been a topic of discussion in Tampa for many years before construction finally began.

McShaffrey said it is a joint effort between many agencies to get the project off the ground. He said, however, the federal government is actually funding 90 percent of the work.

Once the project was green lighted, contractor bids were taken. McShaffrey said the DOT attracted contractors with a $5-million incentive package offered for early and efficient work.

McShaffrey said the DOT used an “A+B” bidding process for this job. After a traditional bid, a contract is awarded to the bidder who will do the project for the least money. In the “A+B” bid, McShaffrey said the DOT was looking not only at money but also at time. The contract was awarded to the contractor who offered to do the job for the least price and in the least amount of time.

McShaffrey said there was a value assigned to the number of days under 1,500 that the contractor could complete the project. He said after the initial bids were received, three finalists were presented to the DOT, from which a winner was chosen.