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FDOT spokesperson admits that TBX will never be “palatable” for those affected by project

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency received an update on the Tampa Bay Express on Monday. The TBX proposal is a 45-50 mile system of express lanes in the Tampa Bay region that would be built along the medians of I-275 and I-4, and ultimately I-75.

The proposed toll lane  project has angered many in the Tampa Heights/Seminole Heights community in particular in Tampa, as the project would make severely impact those neighborhoods.

“The impact of the express lanes, unfortunately, is mostly in the downtown area, and affects the downtown, the Ybor, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights,” said FDOT spokesperson Debbie Hunt. She referred to the outreach that FDOT has been working with USF on. Those “charrettes,” however, haven’t calmed the projects’ critics, who claim that  the meetings don’t address their main issue – which is that they don’t want it built at all.

“There’s no way to make it palatable, but there’s a way to make it a win-win-win,” Hunt said.

Referring to the fact that there are 200,000 motorists who use the interstate system in Tampa Bay, 19,000 citizens who live the communities that will be impacted  by the construction, and I-275 being the main “spine” to connect people in the area, Hunt said FDOT was stuck “between a rock and a hard place.”

“Because we are trying to accommodate the region and also be very sensitive to the locals in the area and the impacts that it could potentially have on them in the future,” she said.

Hunt said one of the main subjects that have come of the charrettes is the emphasis that the public wants for transit.

The project intends to allow HART buses to run on the express lanes.

FDOT guarantees that cars will run with an average speed of 45 miles per hour on the toll lanes. She said a reason why that speed sometimes hasn’t been maintained on toll lanes already in use on I-95 in Miami is because some drivers get in the lanes even after signs indicate that there’s an accident. “That we cannot control, and at that point we cannot guarantee the 45 mph. But most of the time you have significant travel improvement for the whole region corridor.”

Approximately 80 people marched in protest in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood of Tampa on Saturday, one of the neighborhoods that would be adversely affected by the TBX.

“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.”

Hunt said she hopes the project can begin construction within five years, and would take between 4.5 to 7 years to complete.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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