Tampa Bay Express clears latest hurdle
Tampa Bay Express, a $6 billion project that will revamp 50 miles of the interstate, overcame its latest hurdle Tuesday when a policy committee voted to move forward with the recommended five-year plan.
The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization policy committee reviewed the Transportation Improvement Program -- the group’s list of transportation projects planned for the next five years which it must approve annually -- and voted unanimously to pass it up the chain to the full MPO board. The MPO is expected to vote on approving the five-year plan (and, thus, TBX) during a June 22 public hearing.
The audience at MPO meetings is usually stacked with anti-TBX protesters. Nearly 10 people spoke during public comment Tuesday, but, this time, most of them were members of the business community who supported the massive interstate project which will also add toll lanes to otherwise free roads.
“TBX is a tremendous opportunity,” said Ann Kulig, executive director of the Westshore Alliance.”It gives us a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to make new connections in Westshore.”
Opponents argued the plan sacrifices the needs and desires of those in urban neighborhoods, such as Tampa Heights, in order to provide a commuter service for suburbs such as Wesley Chapel.
Policy committee member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman clarified that voting to bring the plan before the full board was not the same as recommending the board approve the five-year plan.
“We have precedent on this policy committee of just moving things forward,” Murman said.
Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione said she supported bring the plan before the full board, but expressed a desire to separate the improvements planned for the downtown and Westshore interchanges from the overall plan of adding toll lanes to Interstates 275 and 4. The improvements scheduled for those interchanges are necessary, Montelione said, but the planning and development studies for the express toll lanes have still not been completed.
“Both (interchanges) are horrendous and both need to be worked on,” Montelione said. “And the express lanes, I think, at this juncture are maybe premature and FDOT is moving very quickly with those projects.”