Residents of Seminole and Tampa Heights voiced their frustrations Tuesday night, arguing that community outreach for the Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion only seeks to build consensus for the project, not listen to critics' objections.
The Florida Department of Transportation partnered with the University of South Florida's Florida Center for Community Design and Research for its latest charette -- detailed planning sessions. They're part of a series of community outreach meetings organized after members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization called for more public engagement on the controversial TBX project.
That meeting was intended to brief the community on the feedback gathered from the second round of charettes before the third round kicks off next week.
That included design plans that could help mitigate the impact of the project, such as bike paths, greenways and creative use of the space under the expressway. Some of those, residents said, feel a little over the top, such as a rendering of a massive outdoor movie screen hanging from an elevated road.
"It's important that we be able to retake the public area under these interstates," said Taryn Sabia after showing a drawing of benches, trees and a cafe under one highway.
But while some residents were complimentary of the efforts and ideas, most were exasperated that there wasn't an opportunity to share why they did not want the project built at all.
"The frustration in the community is because the process feels disingenuous," said Andy Harris who lives in Seminole Heights. "It feels like a predetermined result that the public input isn't going to affect."
The crowd showed little interest in the presentation, instead interjecting frequently with questions about why the project was moving forward at all and whether not building it was still an option on the table.
"It's been expressed to me that none of these meetings are the right public forum to voice these concerns," resident Meagan Hrenko said. "I'm trying to find out when and where it is appropriate to do that. There doesn't seem to be an answer."
FDOT representative Ed McKinney fielded many of those types of questions after the presentation, but said the audience's main concern appeared to be their desire for a public forum with local leaders.
"I think the frustration last night is more on a political level," McKinney said Wednesday. "They want more of an audience with the elected officials in a public forum outside of the MPO meetings. (Those are) kind of a one-way street where they make their comments for three minutes but there's never any feedback."