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'Some people never came back': How I-275 made a generational impact in Tampa

Construction of the highway ruined homes, business owners and kept neighbors apart.

TAMPA, Fla. — Starting next Monday, the first phase of construction to expand Interstate 275 is set to begin. 

Many drivers pass here every day but a number may be unaware of the history behind the highway's construction.

"They did bring about changes in the neighborhoods and the community," Fred Hearns, curator of Black History for the Tampa Bay History Center, said.

Hearns said growth in population prompted construction but said that led to displaced businesses, homes, and disrupted neighborhoods in areas along Tampa. The majority affected were predominantly Black neighborhoods, along with Hispanic residents, according to Hearns.

"Some people moved away and never came back," Hearns said. "You lost that fabric of community in those neighborhoods where the interstate came through."

At that point, other developments and changes were already putting challenges on neighborhoods as a result of discriminatory policies

I-275 isn't the only interstate to have divided such communities after the 1956 Federal Highway Transportation Act took effect. Neighbors, planners, and officials also discuss the impact of other projects like Interstate 95 in Miami and Interstate 94 in St. Paul to this day. 

Hearns said it's important to remember the history and the stories behind each neighborhood.

"You'll be surprised what you can learn about those neighborhoods," Hearns said.

President Joe Biden has proposed to address racial impacts of past constructions of highways as part of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's remarks have ignited further discussion on the infrastructure system's impact on people of color. 

The plan proposes to create a program that aims to reconnect divided communities. That in part includes funding for planning, design, demolition, and reconstruction of street grids, parks or other types of infrastructure.

There are two major I-275 projects in the works. The one that's just getting started is an $85 million project that will add a lane in each direction on I-275 north of I-4 to Hillsborough Avenue. That's aimed to ease congestion around malfunction junction.

An open house is slated for November. FDOT is also installing new sound barriers along the corridors.

For more than a year now, crews have also been working on the Howard Frankland expansion by creating a new southbound bridge between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties by 2025.
The existing southbound bridge will be converted to northbound lanes and the bridge that goes into Tampa will be torn down.