So, about those Tampa Bay Express accountability measures …
TAMPA — Hillsborough leaders made a big show early Thursday morning of adding accountability measures before approving a $6 billion road project known as Tampa Bay Express.
Turns out, those attempts at oversight might not mean much.
Assistant County Attorney Cameron Clark told the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization during its marathon 8½ hour meeting earlier this week that the board has no legal authority to hold the Florida Department of Transportation to an agreement.
“DOT is not answerable to the board directly,” Clark told the board around 1:30 a.m Thursday. “If they miss something, there’s not like there is a penalty for it.”
Two MPO members, Hillsborough County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Kevin Beckner, both sought to add extra conditions to the board’s approval of TBX, which easily passed the board 12-4.
Murman’s amendment called for increased communication between the MPO and DOT, including quarterly updates. Beckner took that a step further by moving to require that the state present reports on the human impact of the project, mitigation plans for the affected neighborhoods, options for premium transit in the area, and any updates on a federal inquiry into whether the project violates civil rights laws.
“We need to stand with the public and make sure FDOT is accountable to us,” Beckner said.
Both amendments passed unanimously.
But while DOT district secretary Paul Steinman agreed to those stipulations at Thursday’s meeting, there was concern over what ability the MPO has to ensure the department keeps its word.
“I know DOT only answers to the governor,” Murman said Thursday morning. “Can we hold them (to an agreement)? How much power can we have over them?”
The answer: not much.
“You’re basically saying these are the things you’re going to request going forward,” Clark said. “If some condition was violated, it’s not like the approved funding source goes away.”
But the MPO does have some recourse, Clark said. In order for DOT to proceed with a project, it has to be in the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program, which the board votes to approve annually, as it did Thursday morning.
While this vote normally takes place on an annual basis, Clark said there’s nothing to prevent the board from amending the list of priorities at any time throughout the year.
“If you determine those conditions are not satisfied, you can always come back and you can remove previously approved funds,” Clark said. “You are always free to do that.”