TAMPA — Transportation leaders will meet with Hillsborough elected officials today to vote on their priorities for the next five years, which right now include spending money on the controversial Tampa Bay Next plan.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization — the group that approves transportation projects for the county — will host a public hearing to adopt its five-year plan tonight at 6 p.m. at Hillsborough County Center. The Transportation Improvement Plan is updated and approved annually.
Last year's marathon meeting stretched into the early morning as hundreds turned out to voice their support for or concern about the state's plan to add 90 miles of tolls to the area's interstates. The hearing lasted more than 8 hours, with the MPO board voting 12-4 to keep the plan, formerly known as Tampa Bay Express.
Since then, the project has faced major blowback, with the Florida Department of Transportation scrapping its plan for the Howard Frankland Bridge and then-secretary Jim Boxold calling for a "reset" of Tampa Bay Express — a $6 billion project.
In the past eight months, three DOT officials have resigned, including Boxold and two members of the local DOT office: district secretary Paul Steinman and district director of transportation development Debbie Hunt.
DOT recently announced Tampa Bay Next, its newest version of its regional plan. Officials have said toll lanes are still included under the new model, but Tampa Bay Next also aims to include transit, bike and pedestrian options.
Money for Tampa Bay Next projects is included in the next five years of projects, something that angers local opponents.
"Even though the FDOT has claimed we are in a "reset" and has rebranded the highway project, it is still very much alive within their new Tampa Bay Next initiative," said Michelle Cookson, spokeswoman for toll opponents Sunshine Citizens, in a statement.
Tampa Bay Next has garnered strong support from business community representatives, who turned out in large numbers at last year's public hearing to urge MPO members to vote in favor of the plan.
Members of the public who wish to speak at the hearing must sign up beforehand and are given three minutes. Depending on how many people sign up, the time allotted might be shortened.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.