Hillsborough residents voice concern about FDOT highway toll lane plan

Published July 29, 2015

TAMPA — Opponents of the Florida Department of Transportation's Tampa Bay Express plan gathered to voice their displeasure with the development of new tolled highway express lanes Tuesday night.

Dissenters filled American Legion Post No. 111 in Seminole Heights to learn about the project and to voice concerns. As submitted, the lanes would run 87 miles along Interstates 275, 4 and 75, and would cost up to $2 per mile to use.

The presentation, put on by the Sunshine Citizens, a nonpartisan group that advocates for smart growth and transit options, drew 250 people.

Mit Patel, CEO of Mit Computers and a member of the "Stop TBX" movement, called the additional lanes a "first-class highway" and said they would be "a big ol' eyesore."

Patel lampooned the Tampa Bay Express motto, "A new choice for a better commute," saying that it would hurt local communities.

"A choice for a commute, what about a choice for a community?" Patel said. "People should be put in prison, or (found guilty of) treason for even suggesting it."

The Tampa Bay Express project website suggests the new lanes will allow drivers to consistently travel at 45 miles per hour, or higher, even during peak traffic times. This claim, Patel said, was ludicrous because, outside of rush hour and construction zones, he is able to travel faster.

Opponents of the plan stressed the economic dangers the new lane presented. Ricky Peterika and Taryn Sabia of the Urban Charrette, an organization focused on the importance of urban design, said the lanes would limit public access to downtown Tampa.

The plan, Peterika said, would make the I-275 downtown east exit "express access only," and would close the I-275 Floribraska exit.

"This is for all commuters," Peterika said. "Only two entrances to downtown, and one of them is tolled."

Based on a replication of a study conducted in Wisconsin, Sabia said the additional lanes would lead to a 20 percent loss in property value in Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights because the express lanes would not have access points in those areas. In total, she estimated the total loss in property value would surpass $350 million.

The group urged listeners to attend the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization or transportation board meeting next Tuesday to voice their displeasure with Tampa Bay Express.