Tampa Bay Express opponents now have a powerful Hillsborough politician on their side
TAMPA — TAMPA — Opponents of Tampa Bay Express now have a powerful ally who also wants to squash the $6 billion plan: Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller.
Miller said Monday that he will vote against the project known as TBX — a plan to add express toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates — and there’s nothing that the Florida Department of Transportation can say at this point to change his mind.
“I agree with the people that don’t want this and they don’t think they should have this in the neighborhood without a complete study done,” Miller said. “People just feel like it’s going to destroy their neighborhood. Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights. Even though they’re older they’re transforming into vibrant communities.”
Miller is an influential voice: He is chairman of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, the body that will decide June 22 whether to keep TBX on its five-year list of funding priorities. He also represents many of the Tampa communities that will be heavily affected by new lanes and other construction.
Miller said he will pass the gavel if necessary to make the motion to remove TBX from the list of projects.
It will be tough sledding, though, to sway the 16-member MPO. So far, only one other member, Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, has voted against TBX.
Last August, Miller joined most of the MPO and voted to tentatively back TBX, but only if FDOT met several conditions, including re-evaluating the 20-year-old study that justified the project. Those conditions, he said, were not seriously addressed by FDOT, Miller said, and he was disappointed with how the state agency has conducted public meetings on the issue.
“They’ve said you can come talk to us but we’re going to do it anyway,” Miller said. “It’s been poor customer service and not working with the neighborhoods.
FDOT spokeswoman Kristen Carson said the state agency has gone “above and beyond” what was required and was “disappointed the chairman does not feel the department has kept their word.”
“The discussion was never about whether the project was needed or not,” Carson said. “The discussion has always been about what needs to be done to work with the community so at the end of the day, what is built not only improves the regional movement of people and goods but also reconnects the neighborhoods and builds amenities that complement the communities.”
If rejected, it is unlikely the $6 billion the state is committing to TBX will be reinvested in the Tampa Bay region.
“A 'no’ vote has dramatic consequences for our region,” said Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. “The opportunity to assemble a large amount of transportation funds for our region in the future would probably be next to impossible.”
Miller’s concern that FDOT did not communicate well with the community is “not a reason to reject” the money, Homans said.
“It’s a reason to call FDOT before the governing board and say, 'We need you to do better.’ ”
Miller acknowledged that elements of TBX have merits, including an expansion and reconstruction of the Interstates 4/275 corridor known as “malfunction junction.”
But he said that it’s not worth the effect it will have on local neighborhoods.
“At this point,” Miller said, “I just don’t think it’s feasible.”just don’t think it’s feasible.”