Friday, April 27, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Building a bridge to a better Tampa Bay

The people are speaking and, thankfully, the Florida Department of Transportation is listening. After scrapping two flawed, heavily criticized proposals for a new span for the Howard Frankland Bridge, the DOT unveiled a new proposal this week that would better meet the needs of commuters in the near term and the distant future. It is particularly attractive because it expands options instead of limiting them and allows flexibility as needs and technology evolve.

The latest version includes a new eight-lane span that would incorporate both free and express toll lanes, as well as a bicycle/pedestrian path and room to add light rail if bay area voters ever decide to invest in it. The new plan may not be flawless, but it is undoubtedly superior to past proposals.

It was this time last year that the DOT gave up on a cockamamie idea that would have reduced the number of free lanes and added one toll lane in each direction. Elected officials and residents blasted that plan, and transportation officials wisely pulled it off the table. Three months later, the state came back with an expanded plan that added more lanes but limited options and was still inadequate to meet the demands of a growing market.

It appears the DOT finally heeded the input of local transportation boards when making this latest proposal for the Howard Frankland Bridge. A massive new span would allow the bridge to continue to offer four free lanes of traffic in both directions, while adding two express lanes in each direction. Two express lanes each way make more sense than one, and whether there should be tolls on those lanes can continue to be discussed even as the design moves forward.

The new span also could accommodate a light rail system more cost-effectively than previous plans. Instead of having to build a third span to make room for rail, the new plan could convert two express lanes into a light rail line and the other span would be enlarged to replace the lost express lanes. This would allow the light rail discussion to continue without committing until there is a specific plan for voters to consider.

Naturally, this plan would not come cheap. The new span, by itself, is estimated at $750 million. If light rail is added, that would mean an additional $190 million in costs. The idea of spending close to $1 billion is no one's notion of a bargain, but that type of investment is long overdue for a community that has lagged far behind similar-sized markets on transportation.

The flexibility gives local leaders a chance to gauge the market's growth and changing technology before committing to specific transit plans. Instead of forcing an either/or choice on tolls or express buses or driverless cars or light rail, it accommodates all those options and enables the community to continue to evaluate them. It may also be wise to further study the feasibility, cost and potential benefits of the bicycle/pedestrian lane on a high-speed bridge.

Coupled with the announcement in August of additional lanes being added to the approach of the Howard Frankland to reduce bottleneck congestion in Tampa's West Shore area, bay area commuters may finally begin to imagine a day when rush hour — or any hour — does not include a bumper-to-bumper dance along the most heavily traveled route between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The plan may undergo further revisions as the construction date nears, but the DOT has finally come up with a creative solution that begins to answer one of Tampa Bay's greatest transportation needs.

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Editorial: It’s up to Florida’s voters to restore felons’ civil rights now

The disappointing ruling Wednesday by a federal appeals court should erase any doubt that the decision on restoring voting rights for felons rests solely on the conscience of Florida voters. A tortured ruling by the minimum majority of a three-judge ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Published: 04/25/18
Updated: 04/26/18

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18