The Howard Frankland Bridge
Dedicated on 15 January 1960, the Howard Frankland Bridge is the third crossing over Old Tampa Bay. Four years before in 1956, the second span of the Gandy Bridge opened carrying westbound traffic. In fact, the Gandy Bridge was the first crossing over Old Tampa Bay constructed way back in 1924. A few years after the Gandy Bridge opened sometime in 1927 the Ben T. Davis Causeway (later renamed the Courtney Campbell Causeway) was the second crossing over Old Tampa Bay connecting Tampa with Clearwater. The Howard Frankland Bridge served as the basis of the extension of what used to be initially Interstate 4.
The Howard Frankland Bridge was constructed utilizing a low level trestle with a high clearance at the midway point of the bridge (which is commonly known as the hump) plus dredged causeways on both the St. Petersburg and Tampa sides. Interchanges at Kennedy Boulevard (Exit 39A) on the Tampa side and at 4th Street North (Exit 32) and Ulmerton Road/Martin Luther King Street North (Exit 31) on the St. Petersburg side were constructed, as well as bridges on the interstate mainline and 4th Street North crossing Big Island Gap.
When the Howard Frankland Bridge first opened it had only a low center concrete divider; this created a dangerous situation with oncoming traffic plus a narrow span. The head-on collisions had gotten so numerous that a raised concrete wall divider (called a Jersey Barrier) had to be installed. Over the years the Howard Frankland Bridge had earned some distinctive nicknames such as the Howard Frankenstein and the Car Strangled Banner due to the volume of accidents that have occurred and the resulting traffic backups on the four-lane span.
In the 1970’s a stalled vehicle warning system was installed that consisted of a series of push buttons along the length of the center section; when a button was pressed motorists were notified by the flashing sign “stalled vehicle” just before entering the center section. This was later replaced by a more sophisticated accident warning system utilizing overhead lane signals on the bridge and variable message signs at the approaches to the bridge. These variable message signs would have their normal messages but in the event of an accident or other incident that closes the bridge for any reason the messages would be changed by remote radio signal link to advise motorists to follow specially designated signs (these signs were an interstate shield with the legend N or S) that would take one across the Gandy Bridge to avoid the resulting congestion as a result of a temporary closure.
With the increased traffic plus the high rate of accidents and the bridge being four lanes with no emergency lane, a second span of the Howard Frankland Bridge was justified. Construction on the second span of the Howard Frankland Bridge began around 1989 and the second span was opened to traffic in 1991. The continued need for the variable message warning system was obviated now that the bridge is eight lanes, four lanes for northbound and four lanes for southbound.
Initially Interstate 4 was carried when the Howard Frankland Bridge opened but with the extension of Interstate 75 southward to St. Petersburg, it now carries Interstate 275 traffic. Today the Howard Frankland Bridge remains as an important icon of the Tampa Bay region.
Original Howard Frankland Bridge Dedication Program
Here is a transcribed copy in PDF format of the dedication program for the original Howard Frankland Bridge on 15 January 1960. Many thanks to Kris Carson at the Florida DOT for faxing the dedication program and another special thanks to Justin Cozart, bayciti.net webmaster (website defunct as of 2008), for pointing out the Howard Frankland Bridge original opening date!