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Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers transportation, breaking news and features in Hillsborough County. She is a graduate of Indiana University, with her master's from the University of Maryland.

She's always looking for story ideas.

Phone: (813) 226-3401


Twitter: @cljohnst

  1. Florida Transportation Commission nominates three finalists for DOT secretary


    The short-list for Florida’s next transportation secretary is out, and the three nominees include current and former department employees along with a member of the Florida Transportation Commission, the board which selects the nominees.

    The commission forwarded the three names to Gov. Rick Scott’s office last week.

    * Richard M. Biter, former assistant secretary of Intermodal Systems Development, Florida Department of Transportation...

  2. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux


    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    More than 150 community members gathered at a Florida Department of Transportation meeting to weigh in on the future of transportation in Tampa Bay.

    The talking points were all the same as they have been in the past: Urban core resdidents called for transit, Tea Party members chafed at any mention of rail, and DOT officials held to the agency's commitment to build express toll lanes....

    Traffic starts to line up at the busy intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54 in Lutz and Lando O'Lakes. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Goodbye Tampa Bay Express, hello Tampa Bay Next; but toll lanes aren't going anywhere


    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Express is dead.

    The name, that is. But its replacement — Tampa Bay Next — includes several of the same projects once proposed for TBX, such as the express toll lanes on the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge.

    The Florida Department of Transportation unveiled the brand Tampa Bay Next on Monday to replace the controversial TBX, which has faced steady community backlash....

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced it was renaming its Tampa Bay Express plan “Tampa Bay Next.” DOT officials said the point of the rebranding is to show there’s no longer a predetermined plan — this time, state officials said they want to involve all stakeholders in drawing up a new plan. Workshops will be hosted to gather community partners and work together on a comprehensive solution for the Tampa Bay region, according to DOT officials.
  4. Cuba ambassador sees hope for closer links


    ST. PETERSBURG — Cuba's first ambassador to the United States in more than 50 years has seen the impact of renewed bilateral ties between the two countries continue to grow over the last two years

    José Ramón Cabañas, the former head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., and one of three main Cuban negotiators to help re-establish ties, shared the changes he's observed with a crowd of about 250 people at St. Petersburg College's downtown campus Saturday. ...

    Ambassador Jos? Ram?n Caba?as:   “The reality is many more Americans are coming to Cuba.”
  5. Just imagine: 1.5 million in evacuation gridlock as a hurricane aims at Tampa Bay


    Tampa Bay traffic is already a slog. Now imagine hundreds of thousands of people using those same interstates at the same time, all trying to escape in the same direction, while a hurricane churns toward land.

    Nearly every scenario seems nightmarish: In Pinellas County, a Level D evacuation gives 585,000 people — half the county's population — 36 hours to crawl across the Courtney Campbell Causeway, Howard Frankland and Gandy bridges. In Pasco County, a Level B evacuation means nearly 175,000 people would have 24 hours to flee east along just two roads, State Roads 52 and 54....

    Traffic is seen along the westbound side of Interstate 4 in the Champions Gate area Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Residents within the path hurricane of Matthew were urged to evacuate as the storm approached Florida.
  6. Creating one transportation planning agency for all of Tampa Bay won't be easy


    CLEARWATER — They gathered around tables and tried to imagine what successful regional transportation planning could look like.

    Politicians, citizens, civil servants. Residents of multiple counties. Light rail advocates and opponents. The nearly 200 participants were a microcosm of a diverse population that could, one day, be represented by a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization that represents all of Tampa Bay — and not just each individual county....

    Viewed from the southbound lanes, traffic in the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa slow to a crawl in early 2016. Tampa Bay leaders are considering a new idea: merging transportation planners into one regional agency. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  7. Epilogue: Dr. Frank Diamond Jr. had a way with young patients in St. Petersburg and abroad


    ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. Frank Diamond Jr. had a way of putting his young patients at ease.

    The pediatrician's easy manner reassured kids, whether they were patients at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg or at a hospital in Quito, Ecuador.

    "It was eye opening to see him be able to help children from a totally different part of the world," said his son, state Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg. "To see him talk and joke with them and their parents in Spanish was really neat."...

    Dr. Frank Diamond Jr. spent four decades serving children and families as a pediatrician and professor in St. Petersburg and Latin America. Dr. Diamond died Sunday. He was 68. [Courtesy of Diamond family]
  8. Tampa Bay Express proponents, opponents learning how to listen to each other


    TAMPA — An unexpected scene played out at the Florida Department of Transportation's local office on Thursday.

    It started with a simple exercise in collaboration. It ended with a hug and literal mic drop.

    For more than two years, Tampa has been a community divided. Tampa Bay Express, a $6 billion project to expand the region's interstates by adding up to 100 miles of toll lanes, was the line in the sand....

    The Florida Department of Transportation is in the midst of its "reset" of the controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, which would spend $6 billion to add up to 100 miles of tolls to the bay area's interstates. On Thursday, TBX proponents and opponents met and discusses their recent trip to St. Louis, where they learned how to get along better. [SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times]
  9. Bill to re-shape TBARTA to focus on Tampa Bay transit heads to Gov. Rick Scott

    Mass Transit

    Tampa Bay's regional transportation agency is set to get a new name — and a new focus.

    The Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that will reshape the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. The Florida Senate passed its version last week, and the bill awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature.

    The legislation will do three things:

    • Change the second "T" in TBARTA from Transportation to Transit. This highlights the agency's new mission: to bring a regionwide transit system to the area, whether its express buses, rail or some other mode of transit....

    The Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that will reshape the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. The agency known as TBARTA will become the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority and focus on transit solutions for a smaller number of member counties. The Florida Senate passed its version last week, and the bill awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature. [
  10. Tampa Bay weekends were made for the Cross-Bay Ferry; weekdays, not so much


    The Cross-Bay Ferry was an experiment for a region struggling with traffic, wedded to cars and separated by a big body of water.

    If given the choice, would people ditch their cars and take a boat across the bay instead of sitting in traffic on the Howard Frankland Bridge?

    The answer: It depends on the day of the week.

    The ferry saw most of its success on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a weekend entertainment option. Far fewer chose to use at as a commuter option, and weekday ticket sales reflected that....

    The Cross-Bay Ferry has been sailing between the downtowns of St. Petesburg and Tampa from November to April. The six-month trial ends Sunday, but officials are already working to bring it back for next season, and hope to one day make the service permanent. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  11. Small fix on Temple Terrace bike lane heralds big effort to stop traffic deaths



    Several dozen volunteers gathered Tuesday morning along Bullard Parkway Bridge in Temple Terrace for an experiment in safety.

    Last year, 12 people died while riding their bikes in Hillsborough County. How many lives, the volunteers wanted to know, could they save with some cans of spray paint?

    They shook their cans, the little ball inside rattling, and slowly covered a worn and cracked bike lane with neon green paint....

    Josephine Winiarz, left, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp help make a bike lane along Temple Terrace’s Bullard Parkway Bridge easier to see Tuesday as part of the Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic deaths.
  12. Long-awaited Tampa Bay transit study identifies five corridors for future transportation systems

    Mass Transit

    The firm assembling a highly anticipated study has identified five potential routes for a future transit system in Tampa Bay.

    This is the first big update in the regional premium transit feasibility plan, a cumbersome term for a process that will identify whether rail, express bus or other types of transit will best serve the region.

    A team from Jacobs Engineering expects to narrow that list and recommend three specific projects — including the exact routes and the type of transit that will operate on them — by November, said Jacobs executive Scott Pringle....

    A team from Jacobs Engineering assembling a highly anticipated study has identified five potential routes for a future transit system in Tampa Bay. It identified five corridors that could one day be served by future transit systems. [Times file photo]
  13. Coming soon to the area around the University of South Florida: new Teslas to ferry people to and from bus stops

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Starting Monday, people who live and work around the University of South Florida will be able to summon a sleek Tesla to take them to and from a bus stop.

    If that doesn't seem futuristic enough, consider this: The electric vehicles are already equipped with self-driving hardware, and transit officials hope the fleet will soon be driverless.

    The project is part of HyperLink — the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority's solution to getting people to and from bus stops for $3 a trip so they don't have to walk 45 minutes in the Florida heat or pay for an Uber. HyperLink started in Carrollwood, Brandon and the University Area six months ago, but Monday's unveiling of four Teslas operating around USF is a development HART officials hope will place the transit agency ahead of its peers nationwide....

    Cesar Hernandez of HART emerges from a Tesla Model X electric SUV while showing its capabilities.
  14. TBX opponents set to host forum on toll road alternatives


    TAMPA — Opponents of the state's controversial Tampa Bay Express plan to add nearly 100 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay's highways will host a forum Tuesday night to discuss alternatives, such as light rail and rebuilding Interstate 275 as a street-level boulevard.

    The Heights Urban Core Chamber is organizing the event, with the focus on maintaining community values while addressing transportation needs, said president Kimberly Overman. Overman and others are also part of the Stop TBX movement. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion Post 111 at 6918 N Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights....

    The Florida Department of Transportation told the Tampa City Council on Thursday that its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan to add toll roads to 100 miles of bay area interstates will be re-evaluated during a two-year pause. The new plan should be ready by 2019. About a third of the original $6 billion TBX project consists of rebuilding the "Malfunction Junction" interchange of Interstates 4 and 275. [SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times]
  15. Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards sues the North American Soccer League


    ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards hopes to one day join Major League Soccer. But before he joins a new soccer league, he has filed suit against his old one.

    Edwards is suing the North American Soccer League for fraud, claiming he never would have bought the Rowdies if he had known about a "criminal conspiracy" involving the league.

    The lawsuit, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on Thursday, seeks to void any agreements with the NASL and asked for Edwards to be awarded costs and damages. The team left the NASL in 2016 and started playing in the United Soccer League this year....

    The Tampa Bay Rowdies now play in the United Soccer League, but owner Bill Edwards hopes to join Major League Soccer.