T.I. Causeway project gets underway

One lane of the Treasure Island Causeway has already been closed, but a full roadway closure is not proposed for the drainage and beautification project.

TREASURE ISLAND — For the next seven months motorists will see, and sometimes endure, construction taking place on the East Causeway Roadway and Drainage Improvements Project, scheduled for completion in May 2022.

To kick off the major construction project, the southern eastbound lane of the west Treasure Island Causeway was closed this week for partial lane reconstruction. This is in the area just west of the bridge near Fusion Resort to Paradise Blvd. Drivers should plan for some minor delays, city officials noted.

“The public should anticipate lane closures throughout the project,” assistant public works director and project manager Stacy Boyles told Tampa Bay Newspapers. “Installation of stormwater infrastructure and rehabilitation of the roadway will cause lane closures to occur. Work in the swale and shoulder areas will also necessitate lane closures during times to facilitate the material staging and to provide a safety buffer between traffic and construction workers. When possible, lane closures will be removed during non-construction hours.”

There may be a few nighttime activities, but the vast majority of the work will be done during normal construction hours to minimize the disturbance to neighboring residents, Boyles said. “A full roadway closure is not proposed for this project,” she added.

The project has been designed to minimize the need for long-duration roadway closures. “However, there will be certain phases during construction where lane closures will be needed and drivers may experience traffic delays,” Boyles said.

The contractor is required to maintain an organized work site and safe traffic patterns.

Boyles said that while there have been challenges in acquiring materials, it has not yet resulted in substantial delays to the project schedule.

According to the project design, stormwater improvements will focus on increased collection efficiency while improving the quality of water that is discharged to Boca Ciega Bay. Gently sloped areas, called bioswales, will be constructed along the outer edges of the roadway to allow rainwater to flow off the driving surface.

Special low-impact development design techniques will be utilized in the project, so that the “first flush” is retained within the bioswales. The first flush is the volume of water collected during the beginning of a storm that typically contains a high concentration of pollutants and debris.

This small volume of water will be retained within the bioswales and allowed to infiltrate over a 72-hour period, with any remaining stormwater flowing to Boca Ciega Bay through existing and newly constructed pipes, according to project details.

The project will also include pedestrian improvements, mainly focused at the intersection of 79th Street. Curb ramps with detectable warning surfaces will be installed at each corner of the intersection to comply with current accessibility standards. Current crosswalk locations will be re-striped and rapid flashing beacons will be installed at the intersection prior to the east bridge. This eastern pedestrian crossing will also be improved to current standards.

Since the Causeway is the city’s primary entrance, a year-round colorful group of plants will be included in the swales. The city will use Florida-friendly landscaping that is easier to maintain and requires less water or chemicals.

Florida-friendly landscaping also provides habitat and attracts crucial pollinators and butterflies.

“It is likely that butterflies and other desirable insects will be attracted to the new Florida-friendly landscaping,” Boyles said. “However, the primary goal of the new vegetation is to lessen the maintenance needed, such as staff hours, chemicals, reclaimed water demand and to create, and eventually expand upon, a landscaping pallete that is recognizable throughout the city.”

While it is not be easy to block the sight of what some believe to be unattractive residential fencing along the Causeway, it may be easier to distract passing motorists from noticing it. Boyles explained that when the east Causeway median landscaping goes out to bid towards the end of the roadway construction phase, quotes will also be requested to add palm trees to the planned shoulder bioswale areas.

“If added, the palms will not hide the fencing belonging to residents of St. Petersburg, but may distract from it,” she explained. “There isn’t much space between the back of the swale and the fencing to add other vegetation and roots from other types of plants may inhibit the swale’s drainage capacity.”

Upon completion of the roadway and drainage improvements, the median will be re-landscaped and the lighting will be changed out to provide decorative poles as seen on the western side of the Causeway.

The new poles will be energized by an underground feed that eliminates the need for above-ground wires. The landscaping plan for the median is currently under development. The landscaping plan has been finalized and was approved by the City Commission on March 16.

In June city commissioners awarded a $2,396,700 construction contract to Keystone Excavators to undertake the restoration project. To defray the cost, the city was awarded a $1.2 million state appropriation and a $275,250 water quality grant from the Southwest Water Management District.

Boyles said the city is beginning a conceptual pre-design initiative for the western end of the Causeway to achieve downtown traffic calming, better stormwater drainage and beautification. “There will be stakeholder engagement to evaluate alternatives as part of this process, and the final conceptual design will be used to pursue grant funding,” Boyles said.