Following Florida Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Boxold’s comments this week that it’s time for a “reset” on the controversial Tampa Bay Express toll lanes project, an opposition group says it’s time to remove the project from Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization’s five year plan.
“We are not surprised that FDOT has realized how tarnished and damaged the TBX brand is- the project is too costly and does not solve congestion or meet transportation needs,” says Michelle Cookson, a spokesperson for Sunshine Citizens, the citizen activist group formed to oppose the Tampa Bay Express project in 2005.
Cookson was reacting specifically to Boxold’s statements to the Florida Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday, where he said, “We have had some challenges with getting that project to a point where the local communities that are affected are pleased with where it is, and so we have the benefit of some time before we’re ready to move forward with that project,” Boxhold said.“We probably have 2-3 years before that project is what we call ‘production ready,’ ready to turn dirt,” adding, “and so we’re going to sort of hit the reset button, bring in additional staff or different staff to manage that project, and work more intensively with the local communities.”
The comments were the first by the FDOT in months regarding the project, which last came before the public in June, when the Hillsborough MPO board approved including the project in the agency’s five-year transportation improvement plan.
The TBX project is the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area. The plan would ultimately remake I-275, I-4 and I-75, and bring new toll lanes from Pasco County south to Manatee County and from Pinellas County east to Polk County.
Critics contend that the plan would negatively impact a low-income and minority concentrated area of Tampa, who had little input on what was happening in their neighborhood, something that Boxold said on Tuesday he is well aware of.
Other critics say that the plan is foolhardy and won’t decrease traffic congestion.
However, some of Tampa’s biggest political players, such as Mayor Bob Buckhorn, state Senator Dana Young and much of the business establishment is solidly behind the plan.
Here is the statement in full from Sunshine Citizens:
Upon reading Florida Politics’ coverage of FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold’s comments to a Florida Senate committee, “FDOT Secretary says it’s time to hit reset button on TBX project,” we are not surprised that FDOT has realized how tarnished and damaged the TBX brand is- the project is too costly and does not solve congestion or meet transportation needs.
Sunshine Citizens’ emphasis in our long-term plan has always been on what comprehensive transportation could this region have for $6 billion – instead of $2 per mile tolls on the highways?
The only action FDOT can take to satisfy community concerns about TBX is to remove TBX from the 5-year work plan and commit to funding a Citizen-led regional transportation outreach effort that runs in conjunction with the premium transit study.
It is imperative that FDOT commit to funding Citizen-led participation in shaping a regional transportation plan that serves ALL of the community – because this is $6-9 billion of our taxpayer money they are talking about using. This outreach must be led by the citizens and include large, diverse groups of people from all over the county, with their input first, not a pre- conceived outcome shaping the dialogue.
We have always questioned the rush to fund this project which has been shown to be so tremendously flawed. Our current actions include petitioning FDOT to remove TBX from the 5- year work plan and continued demands of the Hillsborough MPO to remove TBX from the TIP.
In conjunction with our coalition partners, our next major actions include attendance at the Hillsborough Legislative Delegation Meeting*, Friday, December 16, and then action plans in Tallahassee in 2017.
*Event information at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/586138868243288/
Sunshine Citizens remain committed to public education, grassroots activism and growing our coalition of business and community organizations that favor investment in infrastructure, to include multimodal comprehensive transportation, that generates greater return on investment without eviscerating communities.
It’s time to move Beyond TBX and position this region for economic growth and prosperity while meeting the community’s transportation needs.