HART board member wants FDOT to provide more options for neighborhoods affected by TBX

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Florida Department of Transportation is currently examining the extension and modernization of Tampa’s streetcar beyond it’s 2.7 mile track from the Channel District to Ybor City.

HDR Engineering was awarded the $1.2 million contract to conduct a feasibility study back in January. According to the City of Tampa, the study will evaluate how to best extend the route, through downtown and potentially to Tampa Heights. It will also will address potential ridership data, environmental impacts, and economic development opportunities as well as refine capital and operational costs.

At Monday’s Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) meeting, board member Mickey Jacobs asked that a representative from FDOT address the board in the immediate future about what they might be able to do regarding transportation in the neighborhoods that will be affected by the construction of the Tampa Bay Express.

“We’ve all heard the issues that are revolving around that neighborhood with TBX, and I think it’s incumbent upon us to really push hard on FDOT to look at opportunities to either expand the streetcar or look at more service into that neighborhood,” Jacob said.

The first phase of the plan will cost about $3.3 billion and include construction from the Gateway area in Pinellas County over the Howard Frankland Bridge and the rebuilding of the State Road 60/I-275 interchange and  where I-275 and I-4 converge.  Jacobs said with that type of investment, HART should be pushing FDOT to invest in the neighborhood that would be affected – Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor. “Based on some of the public perception that some of our residents of our community will be hurt by their investments.”

For over a year now, residents in those areas of Tampa have stepped up to lobby against the project. At a meeting before the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization last month, critics and supporters of the plan spoke for a total of over eight hours before the MPO approved putting the TBX in its Transportation Improvement Program.

As board members then argued about whether Jacob’s proposal should be a suggestion or put into the form of a motion, board member Sandy Murman alerted Jacob and the rest of the HART board that there is already a million dollar study about expanding the streetcar underway. “I think this may be a little premature,” she said.

Ultimately, HART board chairman Mike Suarez said that HART staff will study the issue.

After the meeting, Murman said that the TBX still has to come back before the MPO again next year, and that local residents shouldn’t give up the fight to improve the project from how it currently stands now.  “We don’t even have that final plan,” she said. “The final vote is really next May because they have to go through more public hearings.” She says she’s told residents in the area yjsy that they should not give up their fight yet to make improvements.

Many TBX critics, however, don’t want to make it better. They don’t want it constructed at all. The project is currently in the development & environment phase. FDOT officials say that once construction begins, it will take between 5-7 years to complete.

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.