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Howard Frankland could add express lane

Nobody likes the state Department of Transportation's idea of making the Howard Frankland Bridge a toll road to subsidize the cost of its replacement. But what about toll lanes for those willing to pay more for a faster route?

Tampa Bay transportation officials are talking about just that with the state, said Ronnie Duncan, chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, or TBARTA. The idea would be to let people pay a little something to drive on an express lane that bypasses several exits.

"It is reasonable to talk about and expect that somewhere down the road we're going to see certain lanes of new road that will be what we'll call managed lanes," Duncan said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "We're already looking at that on the existing Howard Frankland because we have the service lane that's there and we have the ability to utilize that. It's a safe, secure option."

Duncan predicted the Republican National Convention in August won't be a traffic nightmare for most Tampa Bay residents.

"There will be inconveniences from time to time," he said, "but for the most part, the plan that's in place, that's been approved by Homeland Security, quite frankly, will allow people to move around the region pretty well, based upon their normal daily activities."

Mack sticks to script

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, front-runner for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, is not keen on questions that veer from his prepared script. A few weeks ago, he appeared on MSNBC and was flummoxed when Chuck Todd tried to get his position on extending low interest rates on student loans.

"I want to talk about what's happening here in the state of Florida. … People are concerned about their homes and jobs. That is the issue," Mack said.

"You don't think anybody's concerned about their student loan interest rate?" Todd asked.

On Friday in Tallahassee, Mack held one of his petition-signing events calling for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. A reporter asked his view on Sen. Marco Rubio's Dream Act proposal, which would create nonimmigrant visas for children of illegal immigrants (but not a path to citizenship).

"Today we're talking about the Keystone pipeline. But I think Marco has done an excellent job of being a leader on issues, and I haven't had the opportunity to look at what Marco's Dream Act is, but I know him to be a strong conservative who understands amnesty is not the right way to go," said Mack, who once called Arizona's strict anti-illegal immigration law Gestapo-like.

Mack has picked up the endorsement of former Attorney General Bill McCollum. His main rival, former Sen. George LeMieux, received the endorsement of state Rep. Dennis Baxley, former leader of Florida's Christian Coalition.

Romney forming team

Mitt Romney's general election campaign is starting to take shape in Florida. The campaign is close to leasing space in Tampa for its Florida headquarters — not far from the Barack Obama campaign's state headquarters — and the Florida primary band is getting back together.

Molly Donlin is state director, having led the Florida primary campaign, as well as successful primary campaigns in Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. The pride of Xavier University was RNC victory director in Michigan in 2010, field director for the Rudy Giuliani campaign in Florida in 2008 and worked on George W. Bush's Ohio campaign in 2004.

"Molly Donlin did an outstanding job managing Gov. Romney's winning Florida primary campaign, and we are excited to have her back in the Sunshine State for the general election," said national political director Rich Beeson. "She is an experienced political operative with a history of success who has the skills and abilities to help Gov. Romney turn Florida red in November."

Tallahassee strategists Brett Doster and Alberto Martinez also are back on board as senior advisers.

Meanwhile, former Jeb Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell has started working for the Romney campaign in Boston, where she soon will be joined by Gov. Rick Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham.

Quote of the week

"Welcome to the land of your unfettered ability to carry guns at the Republican National Convention." That was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, addressing a group of young professionals last week after Gov. Scott refused to bar concealed firearms around the Tampa Bay Times Forum during the convention.

Mark this down: During his chat (county Commissioner Mark Sharpe and City Council member Mike Suarez also participated) with Emerge Tampa Bay, Buckhorn also predicted downtown Tampa would see a grocery store within two years.

"Right before my re-election," he quipped.

Alex Leary and Katie Sanders contributed to this week's Buzz. Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay.com.

Winner of the week

Massachusetts Republicans. Nobody thinks Mitt Romney has a prayer of carrying his home state of Massachusetts in November, but his delegation still scored the most convenient hotel for the Republican National Convention in Tampa — the Tampa Marriott Waterside. The bad news for Mitt? Not since Woodrow Wilson in 1916 has a presidential candidate lost his home state and still won the White House.

Loser of the week

Rick Scott. Pandering to Cuban-Americans in Miami is hardly rocket science. But our governor, who sometimes seems more clueless about Florida than most tourists, managed to botch his efforts big time. He gathered Cuban-American leaders for a photo-op signing of a bill prohibiting taxpayers from hiring firms that do business with Cuba or Syria. Then he blindsided them by issuing a signing statement declaring it unenforceable.

Howard Frankland could add express lane 05/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 7, 2012 10:25am]

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