For the second consecutive month, citizens who oppose the Tampa Bay Express marched through a Tampa neighborhood on Saturday, a neighborhood that could be severely impacted if the transportation project comes to fruition.
A crowd of approximately 80 or so citizens met in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood to protest against the proposed $3.3 billion project, which would add tolled express lanes to I-275 in Tampa, as well as parts of I-4 and I-75.
The issue has roiled the Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor community, who have refused to back down in their opposition since the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization approved the project in its Transportation Improvement Plan last August.
“We can absolutely stop this,” said former Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena, who has become one of leaders of the opposition. “If we get a majority of MPO members at their June 7 evening meeting to vote to move it from the Transporation Improvement Plan, we can can do it.”
“My main concern is for the people who are going to loses their homes and businesses,” said Seminole Heights resident Katie Statt, echoing one of the main complaints. “I love my neighborhood, and I think a lot of the neighborhoods are going to be impacted by this are going to lose a lot.”
Among the entities that would be removed if the plan goes as proposed would be the La Segunda Bakery, located on North 15th Street. The popular bakery was part of the protest march that the citizens passed by on Saturday.
The Hillsborough MPO approved the TBX as part of their Transportation Improvement Plan last August, despite the protestations of hundreds of local citizens. MPO Chairman Les Miller put the Florida Dept. of Transportation on notice at the time, saying he wanted to make sure that the state agency would be reaching out to the community to make the plan acceptable to the community.
Those outreach meetings have been local “charrettes” that critics claim do little to address the objections that they have voiced about the plan.
“The whole idea is a false premise,” said Michelle Cookson with Sunshine Citizens, the grassroots movement created in opposition to the TBX. “You can come out to these meetings and you can sit down and tell us where you want this palm tree to go. We’re saying to them, you’re asking us to negotiate around something that we haven’t even seen. Why don’t you show us the plans of how this roadway and this project is going to impact on our neighborhoods?”
“I’ve been keeping up on it from afar, and this is horrible public policy,” said former Tampa resident Alan Snel, in town to observe the beginning of the protest. ” I mean for the DOT to build just a high-speed toll lane and think it’s going to solve traffic is just ridiculous for the impacts its going to have on the neighborhoods.”
He also criticized the political establishment in Tampa for not responding to the citizenry.
“For the political leaders from Tampa not to be out there with exception of Guido (Maniscalco) is absolutely criminal,” he said.
Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco was the lone dissenter on the MPO last summer opposing the measure. “They’re saying this is bad and this is a waste of money, this is not the way to go because they’re backing it up with facts,” he said of the citizen activists.
Also in attendance was Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who voted for the TBX while serving on the MPO last year.
“I think that the members of the MPO are supportive of the TBX,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn earlier on Saturday. Buckhorn supports the project. “A healthy discussion is a good thing, and I think we’ll end up with a better project because of the folks who concerned about the impact on the neighborhoods, as they should be.”
There is no official timeline when the project will begin construction. The FDOT has said work could start within five years if it gets funding.