TAMPA — The latest public meeting on a proposal to add toll lanes to area interstates drew a less heated crowd than past gatherings that pitted road expansion against neighborhood preservation.
Though of the dozen or so speakers Tuesday night — out of a crowd of about 50 — only one spoke favorably of the Florida Department of Transportation's Tampa Bay Express plan.
Residents were invited to sound off during the hearing at TPepin's Hospitality Centre. FDOT officials outlined a portion of the plan that calls for express toll lanes along a 22-mile stretch of Interstate 4, east of 50th Street to the Polk Parkway. Including this section, all of the lanes together would run 87 miles along interstates 275, 4 and 75 and cost up to $2 per mile to use.
FDOT officials said TBX cost estimates came in around $449.1 million for the Interstate 4 segment and that no definitive timeline has been established yet for construction.
These new express toll lanes would snake through Hillsborough and Polk counties alongside existing nontoll lanes.
The idea is to provide a speedier commute to drivers willing to pay their way.
Liz Johnson, a Seminole Heights resident, said it didn't make sense that the lanes would free up traffic because it encourages even more vehicles on the road, instead of fewer.
Johnson said the FDOT needs to take the time to explore other methods of transportation. Express lanes, she said, were not the answer.
Morris Kennedy of Tampa said during the hearing that the plan was "un-American."
"You're asking for people in the city to pay for a road most of them won't use," he said.
Kennedy asked FDOT to instead turn their attention to mass transit or rail options.
The one supporter of the idea, Tim Smith of Tampa, said that residents should view toll expenses as more of a "user fee" rather than taxes.
"We consider every comment that's made," said Kirk Bogen, FDOT District 7 environmental engineer. "We will not reduce the number of free lanes that are out there. We're just giving people some options."
How much drivers pay at these tolls will vary in real time depending on traffic conditions, Bogen said, and will change throughout the day. Express lanes would ideally allow drivers to consistently drive at least 45 mph during peak traffic times, according to the FDOT.
Nancy Davis, 60, who didn't speak at the hearing, said she could not wrap her mind around the idea of a fluctuating toll. It was a concept she said she'd never seen before and was curious about its implementation.
Aside from the points Davis said were unclear in the proposal, she and her friend Barbara Thomson — who accompanied Davis to the meeting — agreed they were concerned about how their property values might be affected.
Thomson said she lives about 300 feet from the interstate and that worries that the rumble of new construction could damage her 50-year-old home.
"I understand we have some serious traffic issues, but our homes are near the interstate," Thomson said. "We don't want to get lost in the crowd."
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FDOC spokesperson Kris Carson said the number of homes and businesses that might face acquisition and relocation in the 22-mile section discussed Monday is minimal. Currently, she said, just one home is affected, and no businesses were in jeopardy of relocation.
"It's selfish," Davis said. "I want to know how (the plan) is going to affect my golden years here."