TAMPA, Fla. — The future of a retaining wall on the western boundary of I-275’s interchange with I-4 could dominate discussion during a Tuesday night meeting.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will host a “Tampa Heights Community Conversation” at 5:30 p.m. at the Hillsborough County Bar Association at 1610 North Tampa Street in Tampa.
For months, some neighbors from Tampa Heights have rebuked the department’s plans to widen the downtown interchange, since the plans include relocating the current interstate wall on the west side of the interchange and bringing it closer to some Tampa Heights homes.
“I remain every bit as concerned as I was when I first learned of it in November 2021,” said Rick Fernandez, who lives on N. Elmore Ave. “That’s a significant movement of a major piece of infrastructure that, in some cases, currently stands no more than 70 feet or so from the front door of some of our homes.”
FDOT said it’s held dozens of meetings with neighbors, transportation leaders and others about the project over the span of years.
Additionally, during a Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) meeting on Jan. 11, the department shared a slide that showed a design schematic that specified the department’s plan to relocate the wall. It said the slide was originally presented to regional transportation leaders during a public meeting in Aug. 2019.
The department said materials and documents related to the project’s scope have also been online since Feb. 2020.
However, neighbors like Fernandez and even some elected leaders have said they were surprised to learn of the plans to shift the wall.
In recent days, wooden stakes have been planted that give an idea of how far the wall could expand toward homes. Fernandez said the stakes are inches from the current wall, in some stretches. In others, the stakes are dozens of feet closer to homes.
“DOT tells us what they intend to do, and we’re simply expected to accept it,” he said.
He plans to attend the Tuesday meeting and hopes other neighbors will too.
“My message, personally, to FDOT will be, ‘You’ve heard our problems and concerns. We’ve told you verbally. We’ve provided to you in writing. We’re here to listen to your proposed solutions,’” he said.
FDOT also plans to host a separate virtual session later in the week. Additionally, the department will be in Tampa Heights from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday “to answer questions about the future location for the retaining wall structure.”
According to FDOT spokesperson Kris Carson, the project is still in the “procurement” stage and a design-build team is still finalizing designs.
“We should open bids towards the end of June,” she wrote.
Construction on the interchange expansion is expected to begin in 2023. In addition to widening the single-lane ramp from I-275 SB to I-4 EB that’s adjacent to the Tampa Heights homes, FDOT also intends to widen the existing single-lane ramp from I-4 WB to I-275 NB to two lanes and the existing two-lane ramp from I-4 WB to I-275 SB to three lanes.