Short cut amid I-275 work causing concerns

Construction along Interstate 275 is creating headaches and now safety concerns.
 
The closure of the southbound exit of I-275 at Dale Mabry Highway about two weeks ago is having a ripple effect, endangering drivers.
 
The Florida Department of Transportation closed the Himes Avenue on-ramp to I-275 northbound at the same time. Many driver are making illegal U-turns instead of taking the posted detour.
 
A wooden pallet and can of spray paint are the only defenses Bill Gillespie has to stop unwelcome drivers from using his parking lot.
 
"People are turning around in our driveway, almost smashing into each other all day long," Gillespie said.
 
Since FDOT closed the turn lane to get onto I-275 from Himes Avenue just over two weeks ago, drivers have been using Arch Street to loop around.
 
It's the first street drivers come to after the barricade and the one Gillespie’s business is on.
 
"I've seen almost 10 head-on collisions, and I've asked my employees not to go out this way," Gillespie said.
 
But for drivers like Amy Couchman it beats the alternative.
 
Couchman turns down Arch Street, picks a driveway and heads back to Himes Avenue instead of taking a designated detour to the Howard Avenue ramp.
 
But other drivers skip the side street altogether and simply make a U-turn, despite road signs warning against it.
 
Cars, trucks even an 18-wheeler chose the short cut over the detour.
 
Couchman can't understand why FDOT has Himes Avenue closed for construction at Dale Mabry Highway.
 
"There's no reason for it," Couchman said.
 
FDOT officials said there is.
 
"If that turn lane remained open to get onto the interstate and traffic backs up through there, it wouldn't allow us to clear all the traffic off of the Himes exit ramp in time. In turn, that would back up traffic onto the interstate, causing more traffic congestion and accidents on the interstate," said FDOT spokesman John McShaffrey.
 
Tampa Police has been keeping an eye on the area and ticketing drivers who make the illegal turn.
 
FDOT officials said they have given drivers the alternative and it's up to them to follow.
 
Construction at the Dale Mabry Highway off ramp is expected to wrap up in September.
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