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TBX critics not pleased with Bob Buckhorn tweet

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Critics of the Tampa Bay Express project are upset with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn over what they say was a “flippant” response to concerns about what the $6 billion project will do to the affected neighborhoods when construction begins.

After reading an interview Buckhorn gave Friday praising the TBX project with the website BusinessFacilities.com, Seminole Heights resident and TBX foe Rick Fernandez sent a tweet to Buckhorn saying, “your continued support for TBX is disturbing and out of touch.”

Buckhorn replied, “Whatever.”

That comment generated responses from other Tampa citizens who oppose TBX, like Chris Vela, who wrote: “PA EJ maps show TBX is est. to affect 115k ethnic/racial minorities out of 180k along our interstates. Not whatever, stand up Mr. Mayor.”

Vela was referring to the potential relocation of residents if the project moves forward as planned.

The Tampa Bay Express is a $6 billion interstate expansion project overseen by the Florida Department of Transportation that would rebuild the exchange between Interstate 275 and Interstate 4 near downtown Tampa. It would also replace the three-mile span of the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge, and most controversially, add 90 miles of tolled “express lanes.”

The project would also raze homes in Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, and V.M. Ybor. Nearly 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that DOT plans to demolish are black and Latino, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.

“A respected neighborhood leader and citizen of Tampa tweeted his surprise and concern regarding Mayor Buckhorn’s statements heartily endorsing the TBX boondoggle – just to be summarily dismissed. When is it ever appropriate for an elected official to publish a response and address a constituent’s legitimate question in such a flippant manner?” asked Michelle Cookson with Sunshine Citizens, the activist group formed to oppose the TBX. “This attitude is astonishing given that Mayor Buckhorn’s constituents have been pleading for him to defend the resurgent urban core for over two years.”

Although initially low-key when FDOT introduced TBX to the public two years ago, Buckhorn said in November of 2015 that he was cognizant of the concerns that neighborhood activists had about the project hurting the neighborhoods where the proposed expansion is to occur, saying, “They recognize that it’s going to have an impact on the community. They realize that Tampa has changed drastically since that plan was created, and so they’ve got to be able to mitigate that, and they can’t put up a barrier that’s going to divide the city. So I think there’s a way to find that middle ground, but I’m thankful that they’re able to reach out to the neighborhood and have that discussion.”

Some members of the Tampa City Council have been more critical.

FDOT officials said last December that they were hitting the “reset button” on the project and intend to take the next couple of years to research and respond to community feedback, and are expected to unveil a revised plan by 2019.

Ashley Bauman, the director of public affairs with the City of Tampa, said Buckhorn had no comment on Saturday.

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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