With its wide, sweeping left turn, New Tampa's new flyover ramp feels more like a turn at the Daytona 500 than the stop-and-go, wait-for-the-green-arrow commute of yesteryear.
No more red lights: Beginning Thursday, New Tampa drivers will be able to merge seamlessly onto southbound Interstate 75 from southbound Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
"The only thing that will stop them will be if traffic on I-75 backs up," Florida Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey said.
For Cross Creek resident Drew Evans, it can't open soon enough. He takes Bruce B. Downs to I-75 every morning to his job in downtown Tampa.
"It takes me almost an hour each way to drive the 20 miles from my house to work," Evans said. "I see time as gas, and at $4 a gallon, gas is money. So, hopefully, I'll save some time, gas and money."
The department had hoped to open the ramp a week ago, but rainy weather postponed it until 5 a.m. Thursday. Although frazzled suburban commuters might feel like they've been waiting forever for the $42 million ramp to open, the FDOT is well ahead of the spring 2009 scheduled opening. Paving contractor PCL is on track to earn a $1 million bonus for its early completion.
"They targeted the bonus from Day One," McShaffrey said. "You're seeing a lot of contractors now factor that into the bid, so they turn in a lower bid, figuring they'll make up the difference. It worked really well in this job, because they're opening the ramp ahead of schedule."
Southbound drivers won't be the only ones who notice a difference. Eliminating the left-turn signal halves the wait time at the intersection for northbound drivers on Bruce B. Downs. Northbound drivers turning right onto I-75 no longer will have to yield to southbound drivers.
"Every direction on Bruce B. Downs will be better," McShaffrey said.
Southbound drivers who are accustomed to waiting for the left-turn arrow will have to retrain themselves to exit from the right lane.
"It's the complete opposite of what they do now," McShaffrey said. "We're expecting a lot of people will miss the turn for the first few days and end up making a U-turn on Bruce B. Downs."
Only one lane of the ramp will be open for the first few months, while the contractor extends the merging lane to the Hillsborough River.
Mike Scanlon, design engineer for Tampa's traffic division, said drivers still have to get through the signal at Dona Michelle Drive before accessing the flyover bridge. The city will not adjust the timing on the traffic signal before Bruce B. Downs is widened next year.
"When the ramp opens with two lanes, it will be a big improvement," Scanlon said. "And when the widening of Bruce B. Downs is finished, it will be a marked improvement."
Shelly Tillman, who said she would use the flyover ramp five days a week, doesn't expect it to shave much time off her regular commute. "I guess we'll see when it opens," the Wesley Chapel resident said.