When the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization first voted on the Tampa Bay Express project two years ago, Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco was the lone member to oppose the proposal. Since that time, he’s been an unrelenting critic of the Florida Department of Transportation’s plan to add the toll lanes that would impact the neighborhoods of Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor.
What a difference a reboot makes.
Now that FDOT has put the $6 billion TBX project on the shelf and is talking up “Tampa Bay Next,” Maniscalco is singing the department’s praises.
“I’m happy to see that in this open mindedness and dialogue in moving forward we can look at other options,” Maniscalco said Thursday at a Tampa City Council meeting. He was referring to FDOT’s apparent willingness to consider shifting the toll lanes to I-75 and/or the “boulevard” concept by urban planner Joshua Frank.
“(The community (has) been listened to … I feel very good about that,” he said.
“TBX was very backwards,” he continued. “It was 1950’s thinking … that we’re going to build this because we’re going to ease congestion,” he said.
“I feel very good about Tampa Bay Next, the conversation and open dialogue.”
Maniscalco comments came after the Council had heard a presentation from the FDOT’s program management administrator Ed McKinney, who has been making the rounds in an attempt to sell local governing boards on the concept of Tampa Bay Next. Simply put, it is all encompassing in terms of transportation options in the region, a noticeable retreat from the plans to push the concept of express toll lanes in the downtown areas of I-275 and I-4.
TBX is now history, though elements of it remain alive. But FDOT officials insist they have an open mind about what they will do now that they have evolved the project into Tampa Bay Next, which is “looking at everything in our system,” says McKinney.
“We need to be willing as a board, as a county, as local officials, to say maybe there’s a solution here that we need to bring into this conversation, and we need to take some ownership of that,”McKinney told the MPO last week.
Councilman Mike Suarez expressed concerns that FDOT is perhaps getting ahead of itself in its enthusiasm for autonomous vehicle technology.
“I do think that we are looking way too much at autonomous vehicles instead of looking at a holistic approach to providing transit options for everyone,” he said.
Suarez said there are two problems with autonomous vehicles in the future: they won’t take cars off the road, and that they likely will have to be parked in lower income areas during the time when they are not being driven, since he said business interests in the downtown area would likely not want to use their real estate for that purpose.
Councilman Frank Reddick questioned McKinney if the department was still buying up properties in the city, one of the most contentious elements of the TBX project.
“We are not pursing new property acquisition,” McKinney said. “We are also not utilizing eminent domain to go after properties.”
McKinney said that any property owners who are moving out of the area are ones who have already agreed to sell their homes to FDOT. He added that there was money in FDOT’s budget this year buy properties for the right-of-way, “but were not using that. We’re putting those efforts away until we know what our solution will be.”