What's up with Tampa's traffic? The Bay Area keeps growing, traffic congestion expected to double

Posted at 12:54 PM, Oct 09, 2017

Tampa has a traffic problem and no permanent solution. Congestion on Bay Area roads is expected to double, possibly even triple, in the next 20 years. We asked traffic engineers, transportation leaders and planners, and the Florida Department of Transportation to weigh in on one question: "What's up with Tampa's traffic?"



Earlier this year Forbes listed Tampa as one of the fastest growing U.S. metro areas. Beth Alden, Executive Director with the Metropolitan Planning Commission, says that's a good thing. It means Tampa is successful and an attractive place where there's job and economic growth.


Economic growth is one of the driving factors for congestion. "The better the economy, the more development, more folks are purchasing gas, driving, and spending monies at restaurants, shopping malls, etc. The better the economy, the more traffic we see on the roadways," says Jean Duncan, Director Transportation and Stormwater Services for the City of Tampa.





Something else that impacts traffic is a building boom and the Bay Area is seeing several right now. In Hillsborough County alone, areas seeing the most growth include Channelside, Riverview, and Fish Hawk.

Nancy Diamond lives near U.S. 301 and Bloomingdale Blvd. "The commute is horrible. Once you hit U.S. 301 at Bloomingdale, traffic stops. That's it. It's horrible. You used to be able to go out on the weekends and 'joyride', that's what we called it. You can't do that anymore," says Diamond. 

For drivers on I-275 south from the apex toward I-4, traffic is bumper to bumper every morning. 

Ray Altieri owns and operates his own company from downtown Tampa. He commutes every day from Carrollwood. "Tampa traffic is mixed-up. I take the back roads until I get south of Busch and Bird before I even decide to get on 275," says Altieri, who carpools downtown every day with his son.

"I wish they'd plan a little better and expand thoses roads in advance of the population booms that come. It's disappointing to deal with what we deal with every day on our roads," says Altieri.

Kris Carson, Public Information Officer at FDOT explains why I-275, despite a widening project, continues to see some of the worst backups and delays. "We strive to reduce congestion as much as possible with projects that address specific problems such as bottlenecks. The I-275 reconstruction between Westshore and Downtown improved congestion along that stretch of highway because additional lanes were added. However, now the two interchanges on either end act as bottlenecks because the 4 lanes merge into 2 lanes just before the junction. This is especially true for traffic on southbound I-275 coming from the USF area heading west on I-4." says Carson.

Tampa's unique geography impacts drivers too. "Our region is unique because we do not have just one or two major central business districts – Tampa Bay has five (Downtown St. Petersburg, the Carillon/Gateway Area, Westshore, Downtown Tampa, and the University/Innovation District). We are also very spread out and many people live miles away from their place of employment. In addition, the geographic center of our region is a body of water, which additionally presents challenges because there are a limited number of routes to get from one side of Tampa Bay to the other," says Carson. 
Traffic engineers, city leaders, transportation and growth planners all agree we can't build our way out of congestion. Any projects done in the future will provide incremental improvements but they will never solve the bigger transportation problem. Alden says Tampa Bay is just getting to the tipping point and says now is the time to start working seriously on other ways to get around.

Alden says ferries, autonomous buses, even converting unused or underused freight-rails to commuter rails are all things being discussed. 

"We have to start working on this now because over the next twenty years we're planning to add more than half a million more people in Hillsborough County. Our current forecast is that congestion probably doubles over the next twenty years too. And that's sort-of a best case scenario," says Alden.

There are dozens of projects in the works. For details on just a few those visit the following links: