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Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers transportation, breaking news and features in Hillsborough County. She is a graduate of Indiana University, with her master's from the University of Maryland.

She's always looking for story ideas.

Phone: (813) 226-3401

E-mail: cjohnston@tampabay.com

Twitter: @cljohnst

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  1. Meeting lets public weigh in on Tampa Bay Next

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The state's revamped proposal to expand interstates in Hillsborough County got one of its first public vettings on Monday.

    Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Transportation reopened a federal study looking at the state's vision to add express toll lanes along Interstates 275 and 4. The move came after the department's previous plan for the area, known as Tampa Bay Express, faced significant community backlash. The DOT later scrapped the plan and replaced it with a new initiative, Tampa Bay Next. ...

    Westshore Plaza General Manager Jay Botsch (center) asks Bill Jones (left) of the Florida Department of Transportation questions about the state's plans for Interstate 275 near the Westshore interchange at a public workshop Monday at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. About 150 people attended the workshop. [Caitlin Johnston | Times]
  2. Hillsborough bus riders adjust to new realities, good and bad

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Bus riders in Hillsborough County are trying to figure out the new bus system that launched this weekend.

    Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority flipped to an entirely new network at 4 a.m. Sunday, as part of "MissionMax," — a complete overhaul of the agency's sprawling system, changing stops, times and routes on which people have come to depend.

    Sunday was a test run of sorts. But by Monday morning, the 43,000 people who typically ride the bus on weekdays were trying to make sense of new route maps and transfer points....

    (From right) Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority transit dispatcher Don Barrett explains the new bus routes to Whon Ho Lee, 59, of Tampa, at the HART University Area Transit Center on Monday, October 9, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. HART flipped to an entirely new network at 4 a.m. Sunday, October 8, 2017, as part of MissionMax -- a complete overhaul of the agency's sprawling system. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times]
  3. New HART bus routes bring questions, headaches to riders

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Sunday was a day of questions and long waits as riders tried to figure out the new bus system that launched this weekend in Hillsborough County.

    Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority flipped to an entirely new network at 4 a.m. Sunday, as part of MissionMax — a complete overhaul of the agency's sprawling system. Sunday was a test run of sorts, as weekend ridership is lower than the 43,000 people who typically ride the bus on a weekday....

    Marco Sandusky of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority helps Delia Noles, 53, try to plan her new bus route Sunday at the Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa. Noles is one of about 43,000 riders who have to adjust to new stops, routes and times as part of HART's new bus system that launched Sunday. [Caitlin Johnston | Times]
  4. New era of transportation noted among local transportation agencies

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Something feels different about transportation discussions lately, local leaders say.

    It was highlighted at a Cafe Con Tampa event Friday morning where representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation's local office and Hillsborough's bus agency spoke together about plans for transit in Tampa Bay.

    The two agencies have partnered on a two-year study to identify a plausible transit solution for the region. DOT paid for the $1.5 million study that the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is overseeing....

    Cooperation has improved, say those attending a Friday morning presentation, among agencies dealing with transportation issues.  [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  5. Know Your City Council Candidates: Barclay Harless vs. Brandi Gabbard | District 2

    Elections

    Two first-time political candidates hope to replace term-limited council member Jim Kennedy, a Democrat who has served since being appointed in 2007. District 2 covers most of northeastern St. Petersburg up to Feather Sound, the Gateway and Gandy areas.

    About the job: City Council members serve four-year terms on the eight-seat board and earn $44,452 annually.

    Brandi Gabbard

    Profession: 

    Realtor ...

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates Barclay Harless (left) and Brandi Gabbard are running against each other for the District 2 seat. This is a combination image made from two separate photos. [SCOTT KEELER  |   Times]
  6. Depend on a HART bus to get around? Life could get harder.

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Elsie Strong, 84, uses a wheelchair and public buses to go to her monthly cancer treatments.

    For the past decade, the Town 'N Country resident has relied on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses for everything from doctor's appointments to errands to eating lunch at Village Inn.

    Starting Sunday, her life will get harder.

    HART is overhauling its entire network, altering the routes Strong takes every day. Stops will move. Times will change. Some routes will disappear altogether as Hillsborough's bus agency streamlines its sprawling bus system to adjust to hard financial realities....

    Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus driver Jose Sanchez, 34, helps secure Elsie Strong, 84, and her wheelchair on Bus 30 at the Northwest Transfer Center in Tampa. HART will roll out streamlined bus service on Sunday that will offer reduce wait times and increase service for many. But that will also mean a reduction of service for some who depend on bus service in areas such as South County, Temple Terrace and Town 'N Country. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  7. HART offers free rides on Sunday, Monday to ease route changes

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough's bus agency is offering free trips on Sunday and Monday to ease the transition as riders try to navigate the redesigned network launching this weekend.

    The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has completely restructured its system, cutting about a third of its routes and adding a few new ones. HART says the smaller system — dropping from 41 routes to 34 — should improve service for about 80 percent of riders....

    A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Route 30 bus that runs from the Northwest Transfer center in Tampa on Friday, September 28, could no longer be in use once HART launches a new campaign: Mission MAX Modernizing and Aligning for Excellence. HART riders will notice a change in bus routes where some extended and others taken offline starting Oct. 8.
  8. New 2024 Howard Frankland plan: 8-lane bridge with bike path

    Roads

    TAMPA — Plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge have changed yet again.

    The Florida Department of Transportation announced Monday that it now plans to build an eight-lane bridge, complete with a bike and pedestrian trail, to replace the northbound span of the Howard Frankland. That part of the bridge, built in 1960, is old and needs to be replaced.

    DOT expects the new bridge to open by 2024, local DOT secretary David Gwynn said....

    The Florida Department of Transportation announced a new plan Monday for the Howard Frankland Bridge. Starting in 2020, the state will build an 8-lane bridge that will include toll lanes and a bike and pedestrian path. The toll lanes could accomodate buses, driverless vehicles or even a light rail system. [Courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation]
  9. Imagine: Light rail along I-275 from Wesley Chapel to Tampa to St. Pete

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — A light rail line could one day run alongside Interstate 275 from Wesley Chapel, to the University of South Florida to Tampa, before crossing the bay to St. Petersburg.

    That project was identified as the highest-ranking regional transit option during Friday's update on an ongoing study that aims to bring transit to Tampa Bay. Planners also highlighted five other transit projects they deemed most likely succeed in the region. ...

    This light rail train is part of the LYNX system in Charlotte, N.C. An ongoing study has identified light rail as the highest-ranking option for improving transit in the Tampa Bay area. One option is a route alongside Interstate 275 from Wesley Chapel, to the University of South Florida to Tampa, before crossing the bay to St. Petersburg. The study is part of a process that will identify whether rail, express bus or other types of transit will best serve the region. [Times files | 2010]
  10. Hillsborough transit board okays smaller budget for smaller system

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough's transit board is closer to launching its revamped bus network after approving a 2018 budget and tax rate earlier this week.

    The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority voted Monday to keep the property tax rate the same at 50 cents per $1,000, a total of $100 for the owner of a home valued for tax purposes at $200,000.

    The board has not raised property taxes, a major source of income for the transit authority, since 2012. HART chairman and County Commissioner Les Miller proposed raising the rate earlier this year but got little support from fellow board members....

    New bus routes and schedules, debuting Oct. 8 and branded MissionMax, will help Hillsborough Area Regional Transit save about $6 million. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA |   Times]
  11. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Florida Department of Transportation officials told about 50 people at a meeting Monday that the controversial express toll lanes previously planned north of downtown are not a part of most options for the I-275 and Interstate 4 interchange....

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  12. Tonight: Hear ideas for remaking downtown Tampa interchange

    Transportation

    TAMPA — New concepts for rebuilding the downtown interchange will be discussed at a Florida Department of Transportation community meeting Monday night.

    Local DOT officials plan to share ideas for the interchange during the second community working group session for downtown and east Tampa that will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk, 111 W Fortune St.

    The working groups are part of Tampa Bay Next, the department's overhaul of its highly criticized Tampa Bay Express toll road program....

    The Florida Department of Transportation renamed its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan is now known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  13. St. Pete realtor Brandi Gabbard hopes to bring housing experience to city council

    Blog

    ST. PETERSBURG — City Council candidate Brandi Gabbard looks at details and the long-term consequences when evaluating political decisions.

    “There’s so many times in these huge policies that there’s an unintended consequence layer that lives underneath,” Gabbard said.

    She said she’s seen it with the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act and the huge increases many Pinellas County residents experienced. And she’s seeing it again now with the city’s discussion of mandatory solar panels for new roofs....

    Brandi Gabbard
  14. In Florida, 2.1 million customers still powerless four days after Hurricane Irma

    Energy

    As the fourth day after Hurricane Irma stretched on, a fifth of the state remained without lights or air conditioning as energy companies worked to restore one of the largest power outages in the country's history.

    As of 9 p.m. Thursday, about 2.1 million customers still didn't have power — down from the peak 6.7 million with outages reported across the state Monday afternoon. It took utility companies working round the clock since Monday with thousands of out-of-state workers to restore power to 4.4 million Florida customers rocked by Irma's strong winds. ...

    A quarter of the state started the fourth day after Hurricane Irma without lights or air conditioning as energy companies worked to restore one of the largest power outages in the country's history. Here, Scott Crellin, a trouble man for Duke Energy, works to restore power in Tarpon Spring on Monday.l
[CHRIS URSO  |   Times file photo]

  15. Half of Irma's power outages restored, but lights still out for 3.3 million Florida homes, businesses

    Energy

    The lights are back for more than half of those who lost power during Hurricane Irma's trek through Florida.

    But that's little consolation for the third of the state that remained without air conditioning or electricity well into the third day after the storm.

    RELATED: How long will it take for power to be restored?...

    SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
It was a harrowing weekend and this week will be tough. The rebuilding process will take time, money and a sense of urgency at all levels of government. But the storm is behind us, and it's time to pick up the pieces and to make the recovery as fast and smooth as possible.