Advertisement
  1. Transportation

DOT reverses course, says it won't take free Howard Frankland lane

The northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge. [Times files]
The northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge. [Times files]
Published Oct. 3, 2016

The Florida Department of Transportation reversed course Monday and abandoned a controversial plan to add a toll to an existing lane on the Howard Frankland Bridge when part of it is rebuilt in 2019.

The department also canceled two public hearings on the bridge replacement scheduled for this week.

In a letter from DOT Secretary Jim Boxold to State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the state announced it would keep all four of the bridge's lanes free for drivers.

A previous plan called for putting a toll on one of the lanes. Officials said it is considered an "auxiliary" lane that exists only to connect the on ramp in Pinellas County to the off ramp in Hillsborough, not to carry traffic across the bridge. By that reasoning, state officials said, the public was not actually losing a free lane on the main bridge connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Monday, Boxold backed down from that position.

"From the perspective of the people we serve in the Tampa region," Boxold wrote, "the auxiliary lanes on this facility are currently travel lanes."

Read the full story: State's answer to Howard Frankland traffic: Pay a toll or lose a lane

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the lost free lane in a story last month. More than a dozen elected officials told the Times they did not know that DOT's plan included reducing the number of free lanes.

State officials called the plan an "interim" step and that a wider bridge would be built sometime in the future. Both bridges were outlined in official documents dating back to 2013.

Emails obtained by the Times Monday show that top DOT officials have been involved in department's response to the controversy since it began. Hours after the Times asked about the lane conversion, DOT's Tampa district office was instructed to send its responses up to Tallahassee for review. Once the story was posted online, quoting angry local officials, Boxold replied to an internal email containing the article with a wry remark: "That went well."

The reversal comes the day before DOT was scheduled to hold the first of two public hearings on the proposed changes to the bridge. Instead, the department will re-evaluate its options for the bridge replacement.

"At a minimum, we will be replacing the bridge," said Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the FDOT's district office in Tampa. "We will still be looking at express lanes. They have not gone away."

DOT officials said they do not know when the rescheduled public hearings will take place, but the goal is still to begin construction by 2019.

No matter what, the northbound span, which opened in 1960, needs to be replaced. Other alternatives include building the wider bridge, which would have space for toll lanes in both directions, that state documents had previously shown as a second step.

"I would like to thank the Department of Transportation for listening to the sentiment of the people of Tampa Bay who opposed having a toll lane on the Howard Frankland Bridge," said Latvala, who wrote a letter last week opposing the smaller bridge design. "Now we must move forward and focus on solutions."

The bridge project is part of a larger $6 billion highway plan, called Tampa Bay Express or TBX, that will add almost 100 miles of toll lanes to interstates across the region.

TBX has been met by criticism since it was announced last year, in part for its impact on minority neighborhoods. Almost 80 percent of the registered voters living at homes the state intends to raze for the project are black and Latino, a Times analysis in June found.

Read the full story: Here's how Tampa Bay's $6B highway expansion will burden minorities

Some critics of the project remain skeptical that the state will keep its word not to reduce free lanes on the bridge.

"We would like to see a copy of the official documentation that guarantees this will become policy in the Howard Frankland bridge replacement project – not just a press release," said Michelle Cookson, a member of the anti-TBX group Sunshine Citizens.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A look at the construction on the Tierra Verde bridge project which is the bridge between Isla Del Sol and Tierra Verde islands on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020 in St. Petersburg. The project began in December 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in summer of 2021. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Dr. Delay takes a deep dive into the construction process for the $56.3 million State Road 679 and Bayway Bridge project .
  2. The Toyota recall covers certain 2011-2019 Corollas, the 2011 to 2013 Matrix, the 2012 through 2018 Avalon and the 2013 to 2018 Avalon Hybrid in the U.S. Pictured is a 2013 Avalon Limited.
    The problem could affect as many as 12.3 million vehicles in the U.S. made by six companies.
  3. The area will be closed to drivers headed north and south from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. through Friday.
  4. A scooter rider navigates Platt Street on Friday morning during the calm before the storm — successive weekends of downtown Gasparilla parades. Scooter companies like Jump warn users it’s a violation of their rental agreement to operate one while under the influence. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    One company decided to pull its scooters Jan. 25 ‘out of an abundance of caution for riders and those participating in Gasparilla.’
  5. Delta Air Lines said Friday it will launch five new round-trip routes a day between Tampa and Miami starting May 4. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) [MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP]
    Delta says the daily nonstop Miami service will create new connections for Tampa travelers to fly to Latin America and other international destinations.
  6. Tampa International Airport is building a new bike and pedestrian path that will loop around its under-construction SkyCenter office and hotel development and cell phone waiting lot. Eventually, that path is planned to connect to a network of regional biking and pedestrian trails. [Tampa International Airport]
    Tampa’s airport is the nation’s first to receive the designation from the nonprofit League of American Bicyclists. It was also the first to apply.
  7. In this photo from video, Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai, China, dumps fuel over Los Angeles before returning to Los Angeles International Airport for an emergency landing Tuesday. Fuel dumped by the airliner making an emergency return Tuesday to the airport due to an engine problem fell onto three schools, causing minor irritation to 40 children and adults, officials said. (AP Photo/Matt Hartman) [MATT HARTMAN  |  AP]
    The fuel, described by fire officials as a vapor, caused minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults but nobody was taken to the hospital.
  8. Draped against the St. Petersburg skyline on Tuesday evening on January 14, 2020, the Bella Vita is visible as it docks in Port St. Pete. The yacht is nearly 250 feet long and costs about $650,000 to charter for a week in the winter, according to broker Moran Yacht and Ship. It can accommodate 12 passengers between its six staterooms and six decks, and a staff of 22. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
    Meet the Bella Vita, a yacht almost too luxurious to believe.
  9. Ridge Road in Pasco County currently ends at Moon Lake Road. [Tampa Bay Times]
    At a ground-breaking ceremony, officials laud a road more than 30 years in the making.
  10. Readers question who determines how long a traffic light will remain either red or green and what factors go into that decision in the latest Dr. Delay. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Who controls the timing of the lights in Tampa Bay? Dr. Delay gets some answers.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement