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  1. Transportation

Five Tampa Bay transportation projects in the works

Tampa Bay has long been torn over transportation projects. Many support expanding the region's options, but voters have rejected attempts to pay for it in Hillsborough County in 2010 and in Pinellas County in 2014.

Then in 2016, the Hillsborough County Commission wouldn't even give voters the choice and killed a plan to build a transit system and improve the bus network instead of putting it on the ballot.

TAMPA BAY TIMES REPORT: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here's why. (Feb. 16, 2017)

But there is still some progress being made. There are innovative options being added to existing highways, such as express toll lanes, and even some hyper-local transit options in the works.

Now this list doesn't include the autonomous shuttle project touted along the Marion Street Transitway. The shuttle wasn't ready by the end of January and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority had to fire the contractor.

And the controversial plan to add express toll lanes along Interstates 275 and 4 called Tampa Bay Next — previously known as Tampa Bay Express — has been delayed to get public input but is still in the works.

Here are the projects coming online soon, and in the future:

1. The Tampa Bay region got its very first taste of express toll lanes and managed pricing when the new lanes on the Veterans Expressway opened in December.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Express lanes set to open on Veterans. They're free — for now.

The state chose a slow rollout, so for now the extra dedicated lane is free to use. But when construction is done, commuters will be able to pay if they want to bypass traffic using this new 9-mile express lane.

2. There's a circulator coming to the University of South Florida area.

A public-private partnership plans to roll out a 7-mile circulator system that would connect the university, medical hubs and Busch Gardens. It would help medical workers, students and residents of some of Tampa's poorest neighborhoods get around one of the worst traffic headaches in the bay.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Circulator system could be running in USF Tampa area by summer

But the USF area circulator is also important because it's an example of a hyper-local system that could one day connect to a larger regional transit system.

3. Pinellas County officials one day hope to build a bus rapid transit system connecting downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches.

The project is called the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit system. The buses would run up and down First Avenues N and S in dedicated lanes, which means less stops and a faster commute to the beach and back.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Plan envisions 'rapid' bus trips from St. Pete to beaches. But will Trump fund it?

The plan calls for the rapid buses to run every 15 minutes along the 11-mile route, making 17 stops along the way. But Pinellas will need federal dollars to make it happen, so it has to wait and see if those funds will survive cutbacks proposed by the Trump White House.

4. Consultants believe Tampa Bay's best bet for a regional transit system is building a 41-mile bus rapid transit system from St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel.

The surprise option has replaced light rail as the top transit priority for a group of regional business and political leaders. In a region that has struggled to get voters to pay for light rail, those leaders reason, it might be more realistic for the region to pursue a less expensive BRT system.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tampa Bay's transit future: Light rail's out. Rapid buses are in.

A consultant said that regional BRT could be built within five years from now. But there's a lot of political and financial hurdles to clear before the region will see its first regional mass transit system built.

5. The original span of the Howard Frankland Bridge — the current northbound span, built in 1960 — needs to be replaced. The state's plans to replace it, though, mean re-imaging the entire bridge.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: New 2024 Howard Frankland plan: 8-lane bridge with bike path

When the new span opens in its targeted completion date of 2024, it will have four lanes of traffic and two express toll lanes going in each direction. The toll prices will fluctuate based on demand, but those lanes could also be used to accommodate bus rapid transit and even self-driving vehicles.

The state even wants to build a bike and pedestrian trail on the new bridge.