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DOT: Revamped TBX plan expected in 2019

Opponents of Tampa Bay Express march past Interstate 275 in Tampa during a 2016 protest of the $6 billion toll road project.

Times file photo

Opponents of Tampa Bay Express march past Interstate 275 in Tampa during a 2016 protest of the $6 billion toll road project.

13

April

The Florida Department of Transportation is taking two years to reevaluate its controversial plan, known as Tampa Bay Express, to add toll lanes to nearly 100 miles of interstates.

Director of Development Bill Jones made a 10 minute presentation to the Tampa City Council Thursday about what exactly the TBX “reset” means. He told the board for the Community Redevelopment Area that DOT will have a new plan for the project by the end of 2019.

“Over next two years, 30 months, express lanes are going to be reevaluated,” Jones said. “We’re also going to look at other options as well.”

Former DOT Secretary Jim Boxold called for the reset at the end of 2016 following public outcry against the project which would bulldoze minority-dominated neighborhoods in downtown Tampa and also convert an existing free lane on the Howard Frankland Bridge to a paid toll lane.

The reset, Jones said, will focus on three steps: research, evaluate, respond. As part of the first step, DOT took a three dozen people -- including politicians, residents and business members -- to St. Louis earlier this week to learn how Missouri Department of Transportation worked with the community there on a controversial highway project.

Similar to TBX, which originated from a 20-year-old study, Missouri was working with an old plan that faced significant backlash. Officials there quickly realized they needed to regroup and work closer with the community if the project would ever be successful, Jones said. DOT here wants to take the same approach, Jones said, which means putting all options -- including tolls -- back on the table.

“We’re here to listen to transportation as a whole,” Jones said.  “Some communities might not want to talk about transit or TBX, others specifically might want to dive right into it.”

Council members Frank Reddick and Mike Suarez asked several questions about who attended the meetings in St. Louis and how they were selected. The group included 10 community members -- six from Hillsborough, three from Pinellas and one from Pasco -- whose travel was paid for by the Federal Highway Administration. Of those, several were vocal opponents of the project, including Chris Vela, Rick Fernandez and Kimberly Overman, all of Tampa.

“They need to be monitored and they need to be held accountable,” Reddick said of those who went to St. Louis. “You find a way to pay these people off and make them happy and then they’ll be supportive of what you want done. I don’t want to see that happen.”

Diane Hart of Tampa was also on the trip. The big takeaway, she said, was that in order for any of these big infrastructure projects to work, DOT has to listen to the community.

“I’m thinking, moving forward, they really see without the community’s input and without the trust of the community it will never be able to take place,” Hart told the CRA Thursday. “There will be constant controversy around this forever.”

[Last modified: Thursday, April 13, 2017 11:35am]

    

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