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 from 1960 to Today

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.

The Future of the Howard Frankland Bridge

The original Howard Frankland Bridge built in 1960 is approaching its end of service life after serving as the third bridge to cross Tampa Bay carrying Interstate 275 for over 50 years. Both Tampa and St. Petersburg have grown over the years, putting a tremendous strain on the Tampa Bay region's highway resources. Add to that frequent commuter use between the two cities and the Tampa Bay region's lackluster mass transit including the lack of rail based mass transit. The construction of the second Howard Frankland span in 1991 carrying southbound Interstate 275 traffic over Tampa Bay and subsequent widening to four lanes in each direction helped a little, but constant growth outpaced demand.

So, the Florida DOT came up with a plan to replace the original 1960 Howard Frankland Bridge with a newer span. According to both the Tampa Bay Times and NewsChannel 8 (WFLA-TV), the new Howard Frankland span will carry four lanes of southbound Interstate 275 traffic headed to St. Petersburg from Tampa as well as initially two sets of express lanes going in either direction. However, the new Howard Frankland span will be designed with rail based mass transit in mind: One of the sets of express lanes will be constructed so that if and when rail based mass transit is implemented in the Tampa Bay region, it will be easy to convert the set of express lanes for rail use.

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As for the Howard Frankland span built in 1991, it will be converted from carrying southbound traffic from Tampa to St. Petersburg as it is now (as of 2017) to carrying northbound traffic from St. Petersburg to Tampa. Now if rail based mass transit is implemented, the converted 1991 span can be expanded to accommodate a set of express lanes. So, when the new Howard Frankland span is built, southbound traffic will use the new span and northbound traffic will use the 1991 span.

Another feature of a new Howard Frankland span is that it will also be pedestrian and bicycle friendly, as a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian lane will be constructed. Currently pedestrians and bicycles are not allowed on the Howard Frankland Bridge being an integral part of Interstate 275 and, being an interstate highway, pedestrians and bicycles are not allowed. The new pedestrian and bicycle lane of the new Howard Frankland span would be adequately barriered off, similar to the pedestrian and bicycle lane that is on the northbound span of the Dick Misener Bridge (this is the first bridge you cross heading south on Interstate 275 going towards the toll plaza and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge) with a low level chain link fence and Jersey barrier system separating bicycle and pedestrian traffic from high speed Interstate 275 traffic. Besides, having a pedestrian and bicycle lane on the Howard Frankland would be very ideal especially for the people who live in close proximity to the Howard Frankland Bridge including the far northeast Gandy area of St. Petersburg and the Westshore area of Tampa, as it would save a tremendous distance by having to use the Gandy Bridge or the Courtney Campbell Causeway as it is presently.

Once the new Howard Frankland span is built and southbound Interstate 275 traffic is shifted to the new span as well as northbound Interstate 275 traffic is shifted to the 1991 Howard Frankland span currently carrying southbound traffic, the original 1960 Howard Frankland span will be demolished. Besides, the 1960 Howard Frankland span is built too low to the water line similar to the low level trestles of the 1954 and 1971 Sunshine Skyway Bridge as well as the low level trestles of the 1924 and 1956 Gandy Bridge, which would in all likelihood not withstand a severe storm surge in a hurricane. The 1960 Howard Frankland Bridge was built as a four lane bridge with a low center concrete median divider creating a safety hazard when Interstate 275 (Interstate 4 back then) was routed over the Howard Frankland Bridge to serve St. Petersburg. Several years later after the Howard Frankland's 1960 opening a Jersey barrier wall was installed to reduce the number of head on accidents on the bridge and a chain link fence system was built on top of the center barrier wall when improvements were made in the 1970's including relocating the roadway lighting from the sides to the center of the bridge.

In order to keep up with rapid growth in the Tampa Bay region, the Florida DOT should construct this replacement span of the Howard Frankland Bridge including demolition of the original 1960 span. However, I would suggest building the expansion of the current 1991 span in order to allow for two lanes of express traffic at the same time as the new replacement span of the Howard Frankland Bridge is built. That way, if and when rail based mass transit in the form of light rail and/or commuter rail is implemented in the Tampa Bay region the already constructed bridge footprint is there for the rails to be installed.

In short, a new Howard Frankland Bridge span with room for rail based mass transit is the answer for the Tampa Bay region. The express lanes should be competitively priced to encourage use of rail based mass transit for getting around the Tampa Bay region including commuting to and from work.

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, webmaster (website defunct as of 2008), for pointing out the Howard Frankland Bridge original opening date!

Howard Frankland Bridge Northbound

Howard Frankland Bridge Southbound

Coverage of Interstate 275 continues south to St. Petersburg or north to Tampa.