The Howard Frankland Bridge — Past, Present, and Future

The Howard Frankland Bridge opened in 1960 as a means of travel across Old Tampa Bay from Tampa to St. Petersburg.  A widened Gandy Bridge was completed a few miles to the south in 1956.  The Courtney Campbell Causeway sits a few miles to the north, carrying traffic from Tampa to Clearwater.

Howard Frankland Bridge, looking west. Image courtesy of FDOT.

No other sections of Interstate highway had been completed in the Tampa Bay area as of 1960, this was the first section of Interstate built in the area.  Interstate 4 was completed through Tampa in 1963.  From 1960-1963, the bridge was simply connected to the ends of Grand Central Blvd (now Kennedy Blvd) in Tampa, and 4th Street North in St. Petersburg.

The bridge carried Interstate 4 for several years before carrying Interstate 75 in the early 1970s, then Interstate 275 from roughly 1973 to present.

Who Was Howard Frankland?

 

The bridge’s namesake, Howard Frankland, was born in Jackson, Tennessee in 1901.  In 1925, he moved to Tampa and bought a gas station at the present day corner of Kennedy and North Boulevard.

With his gas station a smashing success, he later sold it and built a tire shop at the corner of Tampa and Whiting streets downtown.  It had a tower and his key was visibility.

Pioneer Tire Company, 1928.  Image courtesy of Burgert Brothers.

During and after the Great Depression, Frankland was awarded patents on at least five products.

As a visionary, Frankland predicted a shortage of rubber during World War II, so he offered the service of retreading tires rather than replacing them.  He did this using an invention where he would recycle old rubber.  He received that patent just a year before his death in 1980.

Frankland later went on to own several other businesses, become President of First National Bank and the Tampa Chamber of Commerce.  He would also be instrumental in getting MacDill Air Force Base to Tampa, and would serve on the Florida State Road Board.

For over half a century, Frankland was instrumental to Tampa’s growth.

The 1960 Span

The original span of the Howard Frankland Bridge carried two lanes in each direction, no emergency lanes, and had a short concrete strip separating east and westbound traffic.

Howard Frankland Bridge, early 1960s. Image by Jack Ramsdell, courtesy of Tampapix.com

The bridge promptly proved to be a dangerous drive.  10 people died in car accidents in just two years.  Head-on collisions were a common culprit, due to the tapered concrete median’s inability to actually keep cars from veering over.

In the 1970s, a taller concrete wall and a chainlink fence became the new divider.  A solid white line was added, making lane changes on the bridge illegal.  Still, accidents were common.

This bridge had become such a source of misery for bay area commuters, it was was jokingly dubbed the Howard Frankenstein Bridge.

I remember this bridge as a kid in the 1980s.  There were the abrupt slowdowns, the narrow lanes, and the bridge being a little frightening to cross.  The tall center divider made you feel trapped, and still, provided little sense of security against tractor-trailers going in the opposite direction.  I remember hearing stories of people getting out and fishing on the bridge when it was stopped, sometimes for hours.

Aerial of Howard Frankland Bridge, looking west. 1970s or 1980s.  Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

By the late 1970s, this bridge had been proven inadequate, and a replacement was being considered.  A system of alternate routes was put in place, with the opening of the Crosstown Expressway in South Tampa in 1975.  Signs would mark the detour route.  Warning gantries straddled the highway at both ends of the bridge.

Ideas were tossed around for a replacement for several years, before FDOT finally decided on a parallel, 4-lane span that would run north of the existing bridge, carrying westbound traffic.  Construction began in 1988.

Opening of the New Bridge

The new westbound span opened in 1991, temporarily to traffic in both directions.

The old span would have its deck, guardrails, and center divider demolished.  A new deck and guardrails were built atop the existing pilings.

The new, eight-lane Howard Frankland Bridge opened in 1992.  The new bridge had twice as many lanes as the old one, a smoother road surface, and emergency lanes.

No more Howard Frankenstein Bridge.

Demand For a New Bridge

By the early 2000s, traffic backups were becoming the norm, particularly with eastbound (Tampa-bound) traffic.  This was caused largely by a sudden bottleneck from four lanes to two at the Kennedy Blvd overpass onto westbound 275.  The off-ramp to State Road 60 and Tampa International Airport was re-done where only one lane would exit and the other would merge.  However, this realignment of the exit ramp would only provide minimal relief.

Howard Frankland Bridge from eastbound lanes, looking at westbound  bridge. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In addition, this same eastbound bridge, while having a relatively modern road surface, still has its original late 1950s pilings and at the end of its effective lifespan.  Officials were in agreement the eastbound bridge would have to go.

The Future Howard Frankland Bridge

 

New bridge proposal.  Image by Steve Madden of the Tampa Bay Times.

A new six-lane bridge will be built to the north of the westbound bridge.  Four of the lanes will carry westbound traffic full-time.  The two southernmost lanes will be used as tolled express lanes, one carrying eastbound traffic, the other carrying westbound traffic.

The current (1991) westbound span will be converted to carry eastbound traffic.  The current eastbound span will be demolished.  This will move the entire highway north by about 150 feet.

The express lanes on the new span will be part of the Tampa Bay Next project.  Tampa Bay Next will add toll lanes to bay area interstates and other thoroughfares, as well as the future Gateway Expressway in Pinellas County.

Map of Tampa Bay Next (fka Tampa Bay Express). Image courtesy of tampabayexpress.com

Part of this project is getting rid of the 800-pound elephant in the room as far as expansion goes;.  That is the westbound Kennedy Blvd overpass onto westbound 275.  Part of the original Howard Frankland construction, this overpass was built in 1958.  Only two lanes of traffic can fit between its columns.  This project will include a new overpass.

Interstate 275 (then Interstate 4), early 1970s, looking west at Kennedy Blvd overpass. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The whole project will be complete by 2025.

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