Public scolds local officials over TBX, Howard Frankland tolls
Community members berated officials during a board meeting Tuesday morning for voting to approve Tampa Bay Express, calling them “chumps” who failed to properly vet the road expansion project.
The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group of elected and appointed officials who oversee transportation decisions in the county, had its first board meeting since controversy broke last month over the state’s plan to put a toll on the Howard Frankland Bridge.
The bridge project is part of a larger $6 billion plan, known as Tampa Bay Express or TBX, to add toll lanes to nearly 100 miles of the region’s interstates. The MPO voted to approve the plan, 12-4, during an 8-hour June meeting.
While the topic was not on the agenda, about half a dozen community members used the public comment period to scold the board for approving the project this summer without properly understanding it. Several members previously said they were surprised to learn that the Florida Department of Transportation planned to take away an existing free lane in each direction and replace it with a toll. Those individuals said they thought the state was adding an additional lane
The state reversed that decision Monday when DOT Secretary Jim Boxold said the agency will not add a toll to an existing lane. The state scraped that plan, canceled public hearings on the topic scheduled for this week and is now trying to determine other options.
“It still raises questions about how badly your oversight failed,” said Andy Harris, a resident of Seminole Heights and an outspoken critic of TBX. “Were you not paying attention? Were you too trusting of the DOT sales pitch? And how can we have confidence in your oversight now?”
Other individuals challenged the officials to take time to do the research, read the plans and listen to warnings from people who have studied the plans, as opposed to just listening to DOT’s presentations.
“The root of the problem here is that the majority of this board uncritically accepts FDOT’s pronouncements of TBX,” Seminole Heights resident Doug Jesseph said. "You have, in a word, been played for chumps."