Another prominent elected official said Monday the Florida Department of Transportation mislead him about its plans to rebuild the Howard Frankland Bridge with one fewer free lane for drivers.
Florida Sen. Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, wrote a letter to DOT District Secretary Paul Steinman conveying his "great concern" about the agency's plan to add a toll on one lane in each direction, creating "express lanes" that could cost as much as $6 to use. Drivers who don't pay will have three lanes instead of the current four.
"This would be an immediate impediment to creating a business environment uniting the entire Tampa Bay region," Latvala's letter said.
Steinman, who oversees DOT's Tampa Bay district, could not be reached for comment.
The new bridge is part of the state's $6 billion plan, known as Tampa Bay Express or TBX, to add toll lanes to nearly 100 miles of the region's interstates. Drivers won't lose a free lane anywhere else along the project, state officials told the Tampa Bay Times.
Latvala said he was told the bridge would also be an expansion and urged the agency to reconsider its proposal to put a toll on a free lane.
"In discussions with previous Secretaries from the Department of Transportation, they assure me that if express lanes with tolls were to be implemented, they would be new lanes, not taking already existing lanes and designating them as express lanes," Latvala said.
Last week, three members of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization told the Times they thought the state would be adding extra lanes to the bridge when they voted on whether to approve the plan in June; the plan passed, 12 votes to 4.
That concept — adding two new toll lanes in addition to the current four lanes in each direction — is detailed in DOT's Master Plan for TBX. But state officials say that version is the "ultimate" plan, which won't be built until Hillsborough and Pinellas counties decide on a form of transit to cross the bay.
Until then, the region gets a smaller, more scaled back version: three "general use" lanes and one express lane in each direction.
DOT said this isn't a reduction in capacity because one of the four lanes — the one closest to the water — is an auxiliary lane, not a general use lane. Auxiliary lanes connect off and on ramps and are not meant to carry through traffic.
DOT is planning two public hearings on Oct. 4 and 6 to discuss proposed changes to the bridge. The first will be at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park; the second at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. Both are scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.