In 1987, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) signed the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Northwest Hillsborough Expressway (NWE), currently known as the Veterans Expressway, for improvements from Cypress Street just south of the Tampa International Airport (TIA) to Dale Mabry Highway (State Road (SR) 597), a distance of approximately 16.9 miles. The NWE was jointly proposed by the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation as a major, divided, limited-access roadway to serve local traffic in the north and northwest areas of Hillsborough County near Tampa, Florida. The facility formed a vital part of a bypass route for I-275 around the Tampa metropolitan area (see Figure 1).
The expressway involved improving Eisenhower Boulevard to six and eight lanes and the addition of interchanges between I-275 and Hillsborough Avenue. The remainder of the expressway was a new four-lane divided roadway with interchanges to the local road system from north of Hillsborough Avenue to Dale Mabry Highway (SR 597). Improvements to Dale Mabry Highway from the terminus of the NWE to County Road (CR) 54 in Pasco County and improvements to CR 54 from Dale Mabry Highway eastward to I-75 also took place to complete the overall bypass routing to I-75.
In 1992, the FHWA signed the NWE FEIS Design Change Re-evaluation to authorize design of all eight segments of the roadway between I-275 from Cypress Street north to Dale Mabry Highway (SR 597). Subsequently, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) assumed responsibility for the project. FTE renamed the roadway Veterans Expressway (SR 589). Construction of the segment from Memorial Highway to Dale Mabry Highway (SR 597) was completed in October 1994 (Work Program Item Segment (WPIS) #7140004, #7113944, #7113871, #7153101, #7153105, #7153106, #7153107, #7153108, #7153109, #7153110, and #7113669 (original)). Interchanges located between I-275 and Memorial Highway (including new access to Tampa International Airport, Spruce Street, SR 60 at Courtney Campbell Causeway, and Independence Parkway) were reconstructed between 2005 – 2010 under the 1999 NWE Design Change/Right-of-Way Authorization Re-evaluation LINKS Stage 1 approved by FHWA on August 25, 1999 (WPIS #7113781 and #7113944). Construction of NWE from north of Cypress Street to north of Independence Parkway was authorized by the 2003 NWE Design Change/Construction Authorization Re-evaluation approved by FHWA on September 17, 2003 (WPIS #255630-1 and #255703-1).
The most recent NWE FEIS Design Change Re-evaluation was approved by the Florida Department of Transportation Office of Environmental Management on February 26, 2020. The intent of the Design Change Re-evaluation was to update the portion of the NWE FEIS from north of Cypress Street (just south of Tampa International Airport) to north of Memorial Highway based on the addition of tolled express lanes and other mobility improvements. The Design Change Re-evaluation documented compliance with new federal laws, identified changes that occurred on the project since the approval of the original environmental document and subsequent re-evaluations, and assessed impacts of new alternative options and compared them to the previously approved improvements. The NWE Re-evaluation limits are shown in Figure 2.
1987 NWE FEIS Purpose and Need
The Tampa urban area has shown consistently high growth rates over the last 20 years with an increase in population in Hillsborough County of 63 percent from 397,788 in 1960 to 647,000 in 1980. A high rate of growth is expected to continue with a 100 percent increase from 1980 to the year 2010 when the County’s population is projected to reach 1,295,100. The northwestern portion of Hillsborough County is expected to grow even faster during the same period from a population of 101,568 in 1980 to 241,800 in the year 2010, a rate of 138%.
As the Northwest Area has continued to grow, the ground transportation system has not been improved accordingly. All of the major existing east-west routes (Hillsborough Avenue (SR 580), Waters Avenue (SR 584), Linebaugh Avenue, Gunn Highway (SR 587), and Ehrlich Road) are presently operating at or over capacity. Also, Dale Mabry Highway (SR 597), the major north-south route to the northwest part of the county is operating above capacity, and both the morning and afternoon peak periods have increased steadily in duration to nearly three hours. This type of congestion creates unacceptable delays, increases accident rates, and generally degrades the quality of life for all residents affected.
The Florida Department of Transportation and the Hillsborough County Public Works Department have recognized traffic service problems and have programmed improvements for several major arterials in the area. While many of these improvements will enhance traffic flow and levels of service within the study area, the benefits will be localized and segmented. Smaller improvements tend to relocate existing traffic problems to other roadway segments. The primary alternative to improve traffic flow, therefore, is to provide a controlled access facility capable of handling high volumes of traffic at reasonable high speeds.
The origin-destination surveys have shown that approximately 50 percent of the traffic on Dale Mabry Highway (SR 597) in the vicinity of Hillsborough Avenue is “through” long distance traffic with neither end of the trip in the immediate area. It is traffic such as this that must be served by a northwest expressway.