TBX pushed to back of agenda as opponents line up
The Hillsborough Legislative Delegation was poised to spend much of its meeting Friday on controversial toll road project Tampa Bay Express, but that changed with a couple of early announcements from Chairman Sen. Tom Lee.
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold was scrapped from the agenda. He previously had an 11 a.m. presentation scheduled but did not make the final lineup. Lee, R-Brandon, said the decision was made to save time during the six-hour meeting. He also asked the 19 people scheduled to speak about TBX during public comment to select a representative or two and consolidate their comments.
“The issue has been kicked down the road a bit,” Lee said. “I don’t even suspect that this issue will come up during this current governor’s term in office. That doesn’t make it any less significant for your communities.”
Boxold was unavailable for comment Friday morning. He told a Senate panel earlier this week that he wants to “hit the reset button” on TBX after facing questions from Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-Hillsborough.
Boxold said that TBX is necessary to improve the region’s transportation system, but relations first need to be strengthened with local residents and leaders. He said the department would take two or three years to address the deficiencies in TBX.
This doesn’t change anything in terms of a timeline. The Howard Frankland Bridge replacement, which was the earliest start date for TBX projects in Hillsborough County, was scheduled to begin in 2019. Other parts of the the project, including changes to the Westshore and Tampa downtown interchanges, weren’t scheduled to start until 2021 at the earliest.
“I think we all got excited just for a brief second but then realized it didn’t necessarily mean anything,” said Chris Vela, president of Sunshine Citizens, a group opposed to TBX. “Nothing has changed.”
Members of the Stop TBX coalition were signed up for about a fifth of the nearly 100 public speaking spots Friday. But Lee urged them to reduce their speakers in order to save time.
“I've seen this get bogged down in past years,” Lee said. “To the extent you all could collaborate and work together, it’s probably going to be in your long-term interest.”
Vela said they are used to this sort of request from public officials, as the group is known to show up to meetings with dozens of speakers. But it’s important lawmakers know how invested the public is in this issue, Vela said.
“This was really an opportunity for us to let the legislative folks know we would like to defund the TBX project,” Vela said. “And to look at that amount of money. What does $6 billion mean for transportation and how else can we use this?”