TAMPA — State officials are moving forward with a multibillion dollar plan to create express toll lanes on Tampa Bay-area interstates.
But several of the 100 or so residents who showed up to an open house presentation off 50th Street during rush-hour traffic Thursday were not pleased with it.
"I am unequivocally against this plan," said Austin Prince, a 22-year-old University of South Florida graduate, who called it "a tightening of the economic noose around the working class."
"We can write our comments and trust that the Florida Department of Transportation will take them into consideration," said Phil Compton, a 60-year-old regional representative for the Sierra Club. "That's it."
"I just wonder if there isn't a better way to spend $6 billion," said Laura Lawson, a 43-year-old Seminole Heights resident. "What this is going to do is benefit the people who can afford it."
Known as Tampa Bay Express, the plan involves creating express toll lanes along area interstates that residents can pay to use. The lanes will run along Interstate 275 from north St. Petersburg to northern Hillsborough County. They will also snake along much of the length of Interstate 75 in Hillsborough and for all of the county's stretch of Interstate 4, ultimately connecting with the Polk County Parkway.
The exact amount a driver will pay depends on the travel conditions in the express lane at any given time, Kris Carson, a state transportation spokeswoman, said Thursday.
"It's all about choices," she said. "These lanes help draw traffic away from general lanes."
Carson and several transportation officials were present during Thursday's presentation at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, where several tables lined the room with maps of the envisioned final product. Residents were encouraged to peruse the layout, ask questions, consult the instructional video in the back corner and leave thoughts or suggestions in the comment box. A similar meeting took place Tuesday in Largo, where about 50 people showed, Carson said.
Carson said residents should expect construction within the next 10 years, and said the state could spend as much as $6 billion on the master plan and about $3 billion on the starter plan. She said funding from private companies could expedite the project.
As it stands, the plan is to "build from within," officials said, and borrow space from the current lanes to create one express lane for each direction. Existing interstate lanes are 12 feet, officials said, meaning some lanes will shrink to 10 or 11 feet to accommodate the express lanes.
An additional express lane will be added later in select areas. A master plan envisions two express lanes for each direction.
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Express bus service in the new lanes also is being considered.
Near the entrance for Thursday's meeting, a woman was writing a comment on a large piece of lined paper. Asked what she thought of the project, she nearly scoffed. Get someone else first, she said, it's going to take a while to finish this suggestion.
Contact Zack Peterson at (813) 226-3368 or email@example.com.