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DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.
Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.
Published Jun. 29, 2017

TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

The Florida Department of Transportation met with about 20 community members, politicians and planners Wednesday for an update on Tampa Bay Next, a $6 billion expansion of the region's interstates that includes adding express toll lanes to Interstates 275, 75 and 4.

The meeting provided the first public glimpse of what other options might look like.

Local opponents have told the department for three years that they don't want express toll lanes, whose prices fluctuate based on demand, added to the highway. They want more transit.

Heavy pushback forced the state to put the plan, known then as Tampa Bay Express or TBX, on hold last December as it considers other projects.

DOT officials presented seven alternatives to the downtown Tampa interchange and I-275 north to Bearss Ave. during Wednesday's meeting. None of them included toll lanes on that span of I-275 and they all had some sort of transit, such as light rail or express bus.

Some of the options, which were displayed on long vertical blueprints in a DOT boardroom, had the same footprint as the former TBX plan. Building those alternatives would take just as much property in Tampa Heights, Ybor City and other urban neighborhoods, a key criticism of the old plan.

Others called for less right of way and could be built with a smaller impact, DOT consultant Brad Flom said.

Those documents will be online at some point, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said. They will also be shown to a variety of community working groups over the next several months.

Those concepts are versions of just one of the alternatives being considered. DOT consultant George Walton said the department also is looking at a beltway, turning I-275 north of downtown into a street-level boulevard or using reversible, elevated or sunken lanes.

"Those are the types of things we're going to begin to roll out collectively at these community working groups," Walton said. "What we're doing today is showing a little more transparency about how this all gets developed."

The re-evaluation of the downtown and West Shore area interchanges and the section of I-275 that connects them is part of a federal process known as a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Tampa Bay Express was based on a 1996 study. Opponents have been highly critical of the fact that TBX originated from a 20-year-old plan.

The SEIS process, which started in January, will determine the preferred alternative for the West Shore and downtown areas. DOT officials are expected to workshop ideas with the community over the next few months and again in fall 2018.

Officials will then present the new options — along with the choice of not doing anything at all or sticking with the 1996 plan — in a public hearing in January 2019. A project will then be selected. The entire federal process is expected to wrap up in fall 2019.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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