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. "Lefty Lucy, Righty Tighty?", Siomara Bridges-Mata, 32, asks her coworkers as they assemble one of 900 bikes Friday when Amalie Arena transformed into Santa's Bike Shop. Bridges-Mata volunteered with Frameworks of Tampa Bay, Inc. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
    Local nonprofit Onbikes organizes the annual bike build to provide bicycles to kids in the community
  2. Service dog Eleanor Rigby unexpectedly gave birth to eight puppies at Tampa International Airport as her human family was waiting near gate F81 to board a flight to Philadelphia in May 2018. The airport is getting ready to add pet-relief areas at its airsides for service dogs. (EMILY NIPPS | Tampa International Airport) [Tampa International Airport]
    Work on the new amenities is expected to be completed by next July.
  3. This Wednesday, June 21, 2017, file photo shows the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. Uber acknowledged more than 3,000 sexual assaults occurred during U.S. Uber rides in 2018, the company said in a long-awaited safety report. [ERIC RISBERG  |  AP]
    That figure includes 229 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides.
  4. Michele Arceneaux, former president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a press conference against three proposed toll roads in the Florida Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. [LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower]
    The announcement came as the Florida Chamber of Commerce touted the proposed roads.
  5. The Cross-Bay Ferry cruises along the Vinoy Yacht Basin as it heads toward Tampa. The Vinoy condominiums can be seen in the background. The city hopes to attract more vessels for entertainment and tourism to the downtown waterfront. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
    Most of the increase is tied to an additional round-trip sailing on Sundays.
  6. The intersection at Seminole Boulevard and East and West Bay Drive forbids drivers from turning right, even on a green light. [FDOT]
    The intersection at Seminole Boulevard and the East/West Bay Drive is the only one in the district where drivers are restricted on green-light turns.
  7. Abiona Adadevoh addresses the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board Monday about an attack last month on bus driver Schnaider Prophete. Prophete, center, was saved bus bus rider John Phelps, right, when a passenger attacked him with mace and a box cutter. [Caitlin Johnston]
    The agency has installed safety shields to protect operators on about 80 percent of its fleet so far.
  8. A Brightline passenger train passes by on Wednesday in Oakland Park, Fla. After Richard Branson announced his Virgin Group would partner with Brightline, Florida's new higher-speed passenger rail service, a train whisked the British billionaire, VIPs and journalists from Miami to West Palm Beach in just over an hour and then back, with no problems. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) [BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP]
    An Associated Press analysis of Federal Railroad Administration data shows about one fatality for every 29,000 miles traveled.
  9. In this April 24 file photo, American Airlines aircraft are shown parked at their gates at Miami International Airport in Miami. A woman demanding a larger seat on an American Airlines flight is in custody after faking a medical condition that prompted the pilot to head back to Pensacola. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) [WILFREDO LEE  |  AP]
    The woman wanted a larger seat on an American Airlines flight.
  10. Herbert Hayden, front, got help cleaning up his mobile home from people he met on the bus. Then they formed a lasting friendship. From left are bus driver Barbara Irizarry and riders Judy Martin and Hopeton Johnson.  "We're a family now," Martin said. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Three friends who met on Route 11 stepped off the bus to help an older passenger whose home maintenance had gotten away from him.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement