The Interstate 375 spur in St. Petersburg could be removed – creating acres of developable land and better connecting neighborhoods.
During a Thursday city council meeting, the city’s transportation director Evan Mory, and Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, shared the preliminary findings from the Downtown Mobility Study. In the works for over a year, the study is also meant to hone in on possible modifications to the existing roadways to reduce vehicular crashes, including major changes to the Interstate system.
The planned redevelopment of Tropicana Field and the accessibility to the site ignited the study, Blanton said.
“For I-375, we looked at this as a modification where we would shorten the intestate spur or the removal of the spur. In all scenarios, we are keeping the interchange at I-275 so you would still have the same level of regional accessibility,” Blanton said.
The impacts of removing the Interstate I-375 spur. City of St. Petersburg documents.
By removing the I-375 spur, it would free up 20-28 acres of developable land and over two miles of walkable streets. The removal would, however, pose conflicts.
“The removal of I-375 may undermine some of the other city goals of making 16th Street more of a complete street. When you take out the high-capacity roadway, traffic does shift and it does begin to affect 16th Street,” Blanton said.
The change would also add a one-minute increase of travel time to St. Anthony’s Hospital, according to projections.
“We have met with the first responders, emergency professionals and got their feedback,” he said.
Sunstar Paramedics, Pinellas County’s provider for 9-1-1 ambulance services, isn’t concerned about losing I-175 or I-375, Blanton said; however, the St. Pete fire department expressed concerns due to the needed access.
Blanton said he will have one-on-one conversations with the teams from Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital regarding the potential changes.
Blanton explained it would be a balancing act as the removal would create more economic development and improve safety, but it would delay high-speed access to downtown and could impact the future of I-275.
“A partial removal doesn’t give us additional benefits,” Blanton said regarding the other scenario. “Candidly, both of these options could jeopardize the funding for I-275 improvements because they are tied into I-375.”
A partial removal of I-175 is also being eyed.
Midtown Development proposes to rebuild part of I-75 to connect into Creekside. Image: Midtown Development.
“The city’s consultant said they are looking to create a neighborhood and not just a stadium,” he said. “You’re looking for a destination in a neighborhood … it makes sense to consider removing I-175 because it opens it up to everyone.”
Earlier this month, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman selected Midtown Development as the master developer to redevelop the 86-acre Trop site. Part of Midtown’s proposal includes demolishing a part of I-175.
Blanton compared the scenario to the Naval Training Center project in Orlando, three miles from downtown. Ultimately, Orlando’s master plan reconnected the street grids despite opposition from the city of Winter Park, and the projections of horrific traffic delays didn’t materialize because they built an efficient grid street network.
“The lessons learned from Orlando are relevant to the Tropicana Field site. Embrace the grid, the connectivity when both of these interstate spurs are operating at 40% of their capacity event in the peak period. You have an opportunity to reconnect that grid,” Blanton said.
“This [removal of I-175] is a lot more doable than I-375 because you have more right-of-way in the 4th and 5th Avenue South area than you do in 4th and 5th Avenue North,” he said. “We’d keep the interchange at I-275 so you’d still have that southern regional access. The streets are not congested, you’re able to manage the future demand of travel on the existing street network.”
Councilmember Robert Blackmon questioned how the new traffic pattern would affect commuters attending the Rays’ games.
“When you drive to any baseball stadium in the country for playoffs, you are going to experience serious congestion … you have a lot of advantages in St. Petersburg has that Tampa does not. You have a great network, Interstate right there,” Blanton said.
Modifications to the downtown core
Another momentous undertaking is converting downtown’s one-way streets into two-way streets.
One of the primary corridors being studied is Dr. MLK Jr. Street and 8th Street.
“Since these are city roads, if we got rid of that diagonal connection, that opens up a lot of dirt for potential housing in an area that already has a great deal of somewhat-aged, multi-level garden apartments. Removal of that would not only restore the grid, I think it gives us an excellent opportunity for more housing,” Councilmember Darden Rice said.
A map showing the hot spot of vehicular incidents along Dr. MLK Jr. Street and 8th Street. City of St. Petersburg documents.
Under a worst-case scenario, about 35 seconds of intersection delay in the year 2045 by converting the streets.
“Overall, we aren’t seeing congestion on the downtown streets because there’s excess capacity on the roadways,” he said. “This does enable more walkable streets, bike paths and potentially more economic development because you are creating these roads more like a Beach Drive or Central Avenue rather than a pipeline to get in and out of downtown quickly.”
The conversation of MLK and 8th Street has long been supported by city staff, but there have been obstacles such as the bridge that’s under construction on Booker Creek.
“Converting the streets from one-way to two-way is a no-brainer,” Rice said. “Successful retail in order to be successful needs a two-way street.”
The draft of the complete study will be completed this month and finalized in January, Blanton said.
December 9, 2021at4:12 pm
This Spur is 70% (SEVENTY-PERCENT) underutilized as evidenced by FDOT’s findings. There’s no use to this useless highway spur. It all does it create an unsafe area for pedestrians and destroyed the neighborhoods that surround it
December 9, 2021at4:24 pm
Forward Pinellas held an open house at USF for the public that was staffed by their transportation engineers. They were available to answer questions and had poster boards of each project with aerial photos of the proposals. They have done substantial research to determine the best use of the roadways. I would encourage residents to reach out to Forward Pinellas to learn more about the projects.
If 175 can be regraded to be a street level road, it would reconnect the Southside with the rest of the city. The Southside needs to be included with the rest of the city, practically and figuratively speaking. This is one step forward in the right direction.
December 9, 2021at6:55 pm
What great news about I-375. The Infrastructure Bill recently passed by Congress includes funding to tear down underused highways. I assume that the City would own the 20 to 28 acres, so it would seem to be a perfect opportunity to build a range of affordable housing.
I hope I-175 is regraded to street level. It will remove an ugly barrier between South St Pete and Downtown.
December 9, 2021at7:22 pm
Kari M, thank you for the information but I disagree that I-75 should be a street level road. The city should take advantage and utilize as green space (plaza) as proposed.
December 9, 2021at7:29 pm
Georgia Earp. I 100% agree. No fancy condo’s but good quality mixed income (no market rate) affordable housing with families in mind
December 9, 2021at9:04 pm
Just for clarification, Bayfront Hospital of St. Petersburg and John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital are level 2 trauma centers. The only level 1 trauma center in our area is Tampa Genera Hospital.
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