Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Federal officials to start preliminary investigation of TBX

Traffic on northbound Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa slows to a crawl in January during construction.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Traffic on northbound Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa slows to a crawl in January during construction.

TAMPA — Federal authorities will conduct a preliminary civil rights investigation of Tampa Bay Express, a proposed project by the Florida Department of Transportation that would expand the region's interstate highway system by adding toll lanes

State transportation officials claim the $6 billion project, dubbed TBX, will help motorists avoid congestion on what are now freeways — Interstates 4, 275 and 75. But they would do so only by paying a toll to use "express lanes" that will be built over the next few years.

According to emails between federal officials and critics of the highway plan, the U.S. Department of Transportation first received a complaint last month. Just last week, the Federal Highway Administration's office of civil rights agreed to start a preliminary investigation based on the complaint, which was filed by Matthew Suarez, a designer for a local construction firm.

A member of Sunshine Citizens, a group that opposes TBX, Suarez alleges that the express lanes would benefit affluent commuters, tourists and businesses, but does great harm to minorities. His complaint says that officials are prioritizing the "needs and interests" of the West Shore business district, Tampa International Airport, the Tampa central business district and land developers at the expense of the general public.

The project promotes the affluent, Suarez wrote, "ahead of those relating to people of various races and national origins, in addition to people of color who are to be directly and adversely impacted."

When TBX was announced last year, it was almost immediately met with opposition. The plan calls for a new span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, a revamped interchange at Interstates 275 and 4 and, most controversially, miles of toll lanes that run from Pinellas Park across to Plant City, north toward the University of South Florida and south toward Manatee County. These toll lanes cost money each time a driver uses them and are seen by transportation officials as a way to ease congestion.

But the project also calls for the state to buy hundreds of homes and businesses to make room for new flyovers, retention ponds and sound walls. Although the acquisition of homes will happen across the region, the plans are furthest along in Ybor, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights.

Suarez, whose family came from Cuba, said his relatives were displaced by the 1960s construction of I-4 and I-275 in Tampa Heights. He claims a standing under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits agencies that receive federal money from discriminating based on race, color or national origin.

Federal authorities have used this provision to investigate allegations of discrimination across the country: the closing of driver's license offices in Alabama; a controversial interchange plan in Wisconsin; and bus service in Memphis.

Word of the civil rights investigation was celebrated by local critics, particularly those connected with Sunshine Citizens. They and others are trying to stop TBX from moving forward and say that it harms minorities by gutting their neighborhoods in favor of white suburbanites who can afford to use the toll roads.

"This is GREAT NEWS," wrote Lena Young, a prominent member of the movement, to supporters. "We are winning!"

Kris Carson, an FDOT spokeswoman, said the agency wasn't aware of the investigation or the complaint. She said Suarez, "has challenged the plans for Tampa Bay Express in many ways. We are responding to each one as appropriate."

Times reporter Anthony Cormier can be reached at acormier@tampabay.com. Follow @Cormier_Times.

Federal officials to start preliminary investigation of TBX 05/05/16 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2016 9:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Les Miller on Charlottesville: 'This is not what we should about'

    Blogs

    TAMPA -- In the aftermath of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., and ahead of today's continued conversation on Tampa's Confederate monument, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller on Wednesday looked to inspire unity in an invocation that a colleague called "inspirational."

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller prayed for unity during Wednesday's Hillsborough County Commission meeting, following the violent protests in Charlottesville that left 19 injured and one dead.
  2. Here's what Florida's gubernatorial contenders say about removing Confederate monuments from public lands

    Blogs

    Gwen Graham: "Our state's role in the Civil War and the deplorable promotion of slavery still cause deep pain today. We all have a responsibility to combat racism and hate wherever it …

    Protesters climb the Confederate Memorial in Tampa on Sunday night after more than 200 people marched down the streets of downtown Tampa to protest white supremacy. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Hillsborough Flaggers plan are standing guard now to protect the statute.
  3. Here's what Florida's gubernatorial contenders say about removing Confederate monuments from public lands

    Blogs

    Gwen Graham: "Our state's role in the Civil War and the deplorable promotion of slavery still cause deep pain today. We all have a responsibility to combat racism and hate wherever it …

    Protesters climb the Confederate Memorial in Tampa on Sunday night after more than 200 people marched down the streets of downtown Tampa to protest white supremacy. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Hillsborough Flaggers plan are standing guard now to protect the statute.
  4. U.S. teen drug overdose deaths inch up after years of decline

    Health

    NEW YORK — After years of decline, teen deaths from drug overdoses have inched up, a new U.S. government report shows.

    OxyContin pills are arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. A report found drug overdose deaths among U.S. teens inched up in 2015 after years of decline. The report was released on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [AP (2013)]
  5. UF denies white supremacist Richard Spencer's request to speak on campus

    College

    Citing "serious concerns for campus safety," University of Florida leaders have denied white nationalist Richard Spencer's application to speak on campus next month.

    White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Lee Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering Aug. 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. [Getty Images]