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Bike tour gives up-close look at impact of Tampa Bay Express interchange project

Published Jan. 25, 2016

TAMPA — Jordan Miller doesn't know if people realize La Segunda Central Bakery, which invented Cuban bread as the bay area knows it, will lose some of its footprint to the proposed Tampa Bay Express project.

Or that Cafe Hey and Oceanic supermarket, two trailblazers in the burgeoning Tampa Heights district, will be bulldozed and replaced by multiple lanes of interstate traffic.

That's why Miller, owner of Vélo Champ bicycle shop in Seminole Heights, has been offering tours of the areas that will be impacted by the Florida Department of Transportation's plan to expand the downtown Interstate 275 interchange.

The 12-mile Heights Vibes #StopTBX Bicycle Ride tour takes riders from Seminole Heights to Tampa Heights to V.M. Ybor — neighborhoods that will be affected by Tampa Bay Express, or TBX — to give them a brick-by-brick understanding of the project.

The inaugural tour was in November. There was a ride Saturday, and more tours are planned.

"Our goal is to help people see the real community impact of the project," said Miller, who opposes TBX. "It's not just an overlay on a map, but a truly hands-on experience of what will change, what streets are going away and what homes and significant structures will be demolished."

The plan to expand the "Malfunction Junction" interchange is just one phase of the $3.3 billion TBX plan to add express toll lanes to I-275, I-75 and I-4 in Pinellas and Hills­borough counties. But the interchange project — estimated to cost $1.8 billion alone — is the part of TBX that has generated the most opposition from residents.

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said her agency is working with residents to address their concerns about TBX and help manage its impact on their neighborhoods. She also reiterated the importance of the project.

"The not-so affectionately called Malfunction Junction, the I-4/I-275 (Downtown Interchange), needs to be completely rebuilt to relieve local and regional congestion and to accommodate transit," Carson said. "Express lanes are an integral part of the system and will help reduce traffic congestion for everyone."

• • •

Christine Acosta was one of about 15 people who participated in the first tour in November. Her mission was twofold: to get a clearer understanding of the project's impact; and to know what to ask for at the charrettes — detailed planning sessions — that DOT is holding to gather community insight should the project move forward. Acosta is the founder of Pedal Power Promoters, a group dedicated to making Tampa a more bike-friendly city.

"I went on the tour to research the effects and get a firsthand look at the areas that will be affected," she said. "I learned a lot."

The rides were spurred in part when one of Miller's customers — someone he considered a very "tuned-in resident" — didn't know anything about the possible highway coming to his Seminole Heights back yard.

Miller lives in Tampa Heights and commutes by bike to his shop in Seminole Heights, two historic areas he says bore the brunt of the interstate's original construction in the 1960s and will continue to be negatively impacted by TBX. He said the widening will theoretically help people who commute into downtown and the West Shore business district at the expense of those trying to build back the urban core's population density.

"I believe there are far more effective solutions than continuing to tear open this scar of an interstate," he said, "and to compromise history and community for a transportation system that supports people commuting from outside the city through these historic neighborhoods."

Miller has studied the parcel maps, sent inquiries to DOT and worked closely with members of Sunshine Citizens, an advocacy group fighting for smarter growth and transit solutions, to determine which properties and routes to visit.

According to DOT officials, approximately 70 Tampa houses and 30 businesses will be affected by the expansion. Demolition is already slated for some of the properties. Once the project's funding is secured, construction could start in as soon as five years.

While he's still determining the final route, proposed stops on the upcoming tours include the Mobley Park apartments at 401 E Seventh Ave., and the Tampa Heights Community Center at E Palm Avenue and N Lamar Street. DOT officials said both structures could be partially or fully razed to make way for TBX.

The route also may include a visit to the La Segunda bakery at 2512 N 15th St. in V.M. Ybor, which DOT officials said will lose at least part of its parking lot, which is near I-4.

The ride is one of many social and teaching bike tours to spring up around Tampa in recent years. Organizers credit the growth of the neighborhoods near downtown, as well as an expanding interest in alternative modes of transportation.

Instead of competing, tour operators help one another out with logistics and promotion.

"We all work together," said Eric Turner, who leads monthly tours of the city's storied sites with History Bike Tampa. "We enjoy biking. We love Tampa. This is our passion."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Helen Anne Travis at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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