TAMPA, Fla — If you ask anyone why people are moving to Tampa Bay area, real estate investor Clark Lunt says it’s not hard to answer.
“Why wouldn’t you want to move here! Zillow just named Tampa the number one market in the country for 2022. Trip Advisor lists St. Pete Beach the #1 beach,” Lunt said.
While the reasons may vary from the sunshine to no income tax, driving around Tampa Bay is commonality newcomers and long-time residents share.
It's why the Florida Department of Transportation and local counties are working around the clock to prepare our infrastructure. That includes roads, bridges, buildings and more.
Topping the list of road projects in Tampa bay is the $864 million Howard Frankland Bridge Expansion.
With more than 130,000 people who drive it each day, it's FDOT of Tampa Bay’s biggest undertaking. Crews are working very quickly on the project and for now, are on pace to meet the opening deadline in 2025.
“With the growth in the area, there’s got to be a significant investment in infrastructure. Fdot is doing our part,” said Justin Hall. He’s a planning and environmental office administrator with FDOT.
“We’re also working with the local counties and cities who are really working hard to make sure we address the growth here in the state of Florida properly,” Hall said.
When asked about work underway to meet the demands of people moving here, spokeswoman Kris Carson said, “We have several projects that will help with capacity on our roadways with traffic operations. It’s not just keeping up with the growth, it’s about keeping people safe and getting them to their destinations safe. Safety is the most important thing.”
Hall said, one of the biggest improvements drivers will see is a safer and more resilient infrastructure. “Roads that operate better, a reduction in crashes and hopefully seeing significant savings in their travel time.”
Clark Lunt says time saved on the road means money saved, but the issue here is finding houses. He drives all across Tampa Bay to make it happen.
“Sometimes it will take us an hour to an hour and a half to get from Pinellas to Pasco, or over to Tampa, depending on the time of day.”
In Pasco County, Bill Cronin is the President and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council.
He says road projects are key not only for housing but for expanding businesses and others looking to relocate to the area. He pointed to Moffitt Cancer Center building a new facility off the Suncoast Parkway.
“That 589 corridor along the Suncoast Pkwy is going to be that fly to market,” Cronin said. “People are flying in for treatment, 20 minutes up to Moffitt and 20 mins up to their gate at the airport, but also you’re going to have a lot of people working there as well.”
Other Pasco projects include: the Diverging Diamond Interchange at SR-56 and I-75, there’s a new exit off I-75 near Overpass Rd, and The Ridge Rd extension also off of the Suncoast Parkway.
“People are voting with their feet, and they are moving. They no longer want to be in the dense urban areas, so they look at the suburbs. Suburbs are finally cool,” Cronin said.
FDOT says smart technology on the roads will also help meet transportation demands.
“We’re also investing in smart technology. Improving the roads, we do have to make sure drivers can get around safely and efficiently,” Hall said.
In Pinellas County, cities like Largo, St. Pete, Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs are using new technology, a safety alert system called Safety Cloud to alert drivers of emergency situations.
When it comes to relieving traffic in the area, the $600 million Gateway Project will connect St. Pete, to Clearwater and Tampa late next year.
In Polk County, big road projects in the works include the following:
- W. Pipkin Road Widening
- Lake Wilson Road Widening
- CR 557 Road Widening
- Marigold Avenue Widening
- Thompson Nursery Road Widening and Re-Alignment
Some of this work will help ease traffic in suburban areas like Auburndale where Amazon already has a fulfillment center, and in Lake Wales, where a new 6,000 home development project is projected to double its population.
For many like Clark, it’s all about accessibility to things that matter most, jobs, family, community, and recreation. While driving through construction is never fun, he’s excited about the future development of Tampa Bay and in his neighborhood as well.
“With that and all the development that’s going into Midtown and Downtown, in Tampa, it’s amazing.”
Other FDOT projects down the pipeline include improving the Westshore Interchange on I-275 NB after the Howard Frankland Bridge and widening the entrance from I-275 SB to I-4 EB. The goal is to improve safety and relieve congestion.