This Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization will meet with a lot on the line.
The MPO board will hold a public hearing on its priorities with the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which includes the Tampa Bay Express (TBX), the controversial proposal by the Florida Department of Transportation that would install toll lanes on I-275 in the Tampa Bay area.
Because of public interest, the MPO recently announced that it will move the meeting from the 26th floor of the County Center to the second floor, where Board of County Commissioners meet for their bi-monthly meetings.
A nascent activist group called Sunshine Citizens says it may have as many as 200 people attending the event. The group is calling for the TBX to be removed from the TIP.
“At a projected cost of $9 billion, FDOT’s TBX plan introduces variable-rate toll lanes to Tampa’s Interstate highways. The plan does not provide HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, or dedicated funding for transit planning, expanding current HART bus service or plans for light rail,” said Chris Vela, president of Sunshine Citizens in a statement issued on Monday. “This plan creates a highway that is only for outlying area consumers, as access to and from those lanes doesn’t exist within Tampa. It eliminates exits and cuts off access to downtown, punishing nearby urban core neighborhoods by isolating them and destroying irreplaceable historic assets.”
Vela is referring to the fact that part of the plan would eliminate the Floribraska entrance and exit off of I-275 just north of downtown Tampa. The plan will only have one entrance to get on the express lanes from downtown Tampa. Instead, it is designed to ease access from those in suburban communities commuting into downtown Tampa.
The MPO is chaired by Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller. Its board consists of four other members from the BOCC, three members of Tampa City Council, the mayors of Plant City and Temple Terrace, and the heads of the Tampa Port Authority (Paul Anderson), Tampa International Airport (Joe Lopano) and Tampa-Hillsborough Express Authority (Joe Waggoner).
On Friday the Tampa Bay Partnership came out in support of TBX.
“The Tampa Bay region has the opportunity to implement a critical portion of the Master Plan thanks to District 7’s recent proposal of $3 billion in support from FDOT,” said Brian Lamb, chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
“With the help of this funding Tampa Bay Express would connect four major economic centers (Gateway, Westshore, Downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida), bring in 84,000 jobs and $13 billion in economic investment. Mobility in and around Port Tampa Bay and Tampa International Airport would greatly improve and, in turn, Tampa Bay, which is ranked No. 11 nationally for traffic congestion, would double the capacity of its Interstate system.”
Lamb also writes that “we also suggest that FDOT please consider transit as part of the solution in the corridor.”
Last week, Debbie Hunt with FDOT said that the state agency may be able to help fund expanded bus service and possibly light rail in Hillsborough County, but indicated that those funds would only come after Hillsborough contributed its fair share.
Concurrently with the TBX project, officials in the county are continuing to seek input and provide information about a proposed half-cent sales referendum to pay for transportation projects that may go before voters in 2016.
Many in the Tampa Bay area have expressed frustration with the FDOT for providing funding for transit projects in Orlando and Miami, but not to Hillsborough.
The MPO meeting regarding TBX will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 4, on the second floor at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa.