Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Transportation

Florida Department of Transportation's top official for Tampa Bay region set to depart

TAMPA — The top Florida Department of Transportation official overseeing the Tampa Bay region will step down next month.

District 7 Secretary Paul Steinman sent an email Friday morning to his staff saying that he was resigning so that he could move to Raleigh, N.C., and be closer to his son. His last day will be July 14.

"As many of you know, family is my number one priority," Steinman wrote. "This move allows more frequent opportunities for us to spend time together doing the simple things like prepping (for) race day and someday down the road coaching my grandkids in the fundamentals of ice hockey."

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Steinman's office is overseeing Tampa Bay Next — formerly Tampa Bay Express — the state's controversial plan to spend $6 billion adding 90 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay's interstate system that are currently free of tolls. But residents in downtown Tampa neighborhoods have expressed concerns about the areas that would be razed to make way for the new express lanes and have lamented the lack of responsiveness from DOT.

He is the second top DOT official to resign from the Tampa Bay office in recent months. Debbie Hunt, the project manager of Tampa Bay Express, resigned in November. DOT Secretary Jim Boxold, who oversaw the statewide agency, resigned in January.

Steinman could not be reached for comment. DOT spokesman Dick Kane said that Steinman's replacement will be announced at a later date.

The project once known as TBX was rebranded Tampa Bay Next last month. State officials said they would go back to the drawing board and redraw the plan with input from local stakeholders.

Tampa Bay Next also outlines ideas for transit, bike lanes and creative road solutions. But some parts of the old TBX plan remain: the state plans to add express toll lanes to the Gateway Connector in Pinellas, the Howard Frankland Bridge, Interstate 4 and the Selmon Expressway Connector. Florida's Turnpike Enterprise is also adding express lanes to portions of the expanded Veterans Expressway toll road.

Whoever replaces Steinman, Sunshine Citizens activist Michelle Cookson, whose group opposes TBN, said she hopes they are ready to be more open and collaborative with the community when it comes to the express toll project.

"When $6 to $9 billion of our tax dollars are at stake, we need to see accountability and true transparency," Cookson said. "We need for this to be a true reset and for FDOT to be honest brokers in the process."

Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, said he thinks there's been a big turnaround with the TBN project, and that Steinman's replacement should be ready to keep pushing it forward.

"I'm going to miss Paul. He was a great partner for us," Chiaramonte said. "We need someone who understands the area, who can work well with the community and elected officials."

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