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Vote set Tuesday on $2.7-billion road plan

(ran PC edition)

After more than a year of surveys, studies and meetings, road planners are ready to sign off on Hillsborough County's long-range transportation plan for 2025.

The board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization will decide Tuesday whether to adopt the list of $2.7-billion worth of projects planned over the next two decades.

The list includes some big-ticket items, such as the widening of Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa and the construction of a train from downtown to the University of South Florida. It also has dozens of local projects.

Among the most controversial is the east-west road linking New Tampa to Interstate 275. The project has been on the books since the 1980s but has never been built, largely because of neighborhood opposition and a lack of funding.

Opponents want the road taken off the list. They argue it does not meet the criteria because there is not enough money to build it. They also question whether the connector road is needed.

"It's just too easy to say, "Trust me. We have the money for it,' " said Marshall Adams, president of Citizens for West Meadows, a group of homeowners opposed to routing the road through their community. "I think they have an obligation to prove the legitimacy of the funding."

The group sent a letter to the planning organization on Thursday asking for specifics about the road and its funding sources. They hope to get answers at Tuesday's public hearing.

The plan includes $15-million in city money to extend the connector road from Interstate 75 to I-275, and $25-million in state and federal funds to build the I-275 interchange. The city's portion would come from a combination of toll road revenue, gas taxes and development impact fees.

Opponents have for years tried to get the east-west road deleted from the list, which is updated every three years. The road was included on the 2015 and 2020 plans, but pushed back because funding would not be available in time.

Building a major road can take decades, not years. Getting on the plan gets the project rolling to determine if the road is, in fact, feasible and necessary, said Rich Clarendon, the MPO's project manager for the 2025 plan.

The road has been penciled in for sometime between 2016 and 2025, he said. The planning and engineering study just began and will last about 18 months.

Some supporters of the road say it must stay on the list while the study is done. The study will look at potential routes and environmental impacts of the road. The results will either move the project forward or stop it.

Jim Davison, founding chairman of the New Tampa Transportation Task Force, said the road is critical to help relieve congestion in fast-growing New Tampa. Even with the opening of State Road 56 in Pasco County and other traffic improvements, the area will still need more roads.

The MPO meeting begins at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa. Voting members include mayors, county commissioners and City Council members.

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