Residents, critics speak out on Tampa Bay Next ‘process’


Florida Department of Transportation officials call Tampa Bay Next a “process,” one in which more input from the public is always welcome.

That attitude is impressing some of the agency’s critics, after what was widely perceived as a heavy-handed approach with the now-defunct Tampa Bay Express project, the multibillion-dollar proposal that most prominently included adding express toll lanes to both Interstate 275 and Interstate 4.

On Monday afternoon, the FDOT held a workshop at the Tampa Marriott Westshore for public input on what is known as downtown Tampa interchange concepts. Officially, it’s part of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) process, set for all of 2018 and into 2019.

The process began in 1996 and needed updating, said Bill Jones, FDOT’s director of transportation and development.

“Nothing works in a vacuum, so we’re really making an effort from a regional standpoint to make sure that we look at things holistically,” he said, “whether that’s the type of transportation, whether that’s bicycle or pedestrian, transit, roadway, bridges and roads.”

“But also — how does that interact with the other parts of our network?” Jones added.

Among those other parts include adding another southbound lane to the Veterans Expressway, from north of Cypress Street to north of Independence Parkway. Construction on that section of road will begin in a year from now.

FDOT officials say part of the Tampa Bay Next process includes re-evaluating the location of those express lanes, perhaps moving them from I-275 to I-75.

However, maps displayed Monday still showed express lanes on I-275.

“I just feel like it’s going to happen because FDOT and TBARTA are the only two state-funded plans,” said disappointed Tampa resident (and former city council candidate) Joe Citro.

Later, Citro continued in a Facebook comment: “We applaud FDOT for engaging us in our future. However, we would hope that there were other options besides right of way acquisitions and building super express lanes.”

Citro was pleased that a plan for a boulevard concept is still being shown on FDOT maps which would include the possibility of light rail and some express buses. Nevertheless, that map also said that it wasn’t self-evident the boulevard would noticeably reduce congestion.

Among the most contentious parts of the TBX process was purchasing homes for rights-of-way in Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights, a process that FDOT announced earlier this year they would temporarily stop.

A recent property acquisition in the area prompted some criticism from TBX opponents.

“We were going to finish any deals that were in the works, and then no more right of way was going to be approved,” FDOT spokesperson Kris Carson said.

Two decades ago, FDOT purchased, rehabilitated and moved 64 homes in the Ybor City area. 

FDOT consultant Elaine Illes said the agency had heard from the community, asking if there’s any way to minimize the impact to Tampa neighborhoods affected by the interstate.

To do so, Illes explained, means going back to the 1996 survey to re-examine boundaries and decide whether to “resurvey” the areas.

Eastern Hillsborough County activist George Niemann is suspicious of these meetings (including Tuesday’s event at the Hilton Tampa Downtown).

“You’re going to get more businesspeople, more millennials, more who are going to favor mass transit and rail,” he said.

Like many of those outside the city of Tampa, Niemann is fearful of a creep toward light rail, even though those efforts have gone nowhere in Hillsborough County over the past decade (and beyond). He says he’s distrustful of the newly minted configuration of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA), where “transit” literally replaced “transportation” in its title, as well as more talk of regional MPO’s.

“That’s their strategy, and I’m going to fight it,” Niemann said. “We’re getting organized, and we’re going to be fighting it going forward.”

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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