Snarled bridge traffic, TIA success and bungled raise make this week’s highs and low | Editorial
Also, kudos to Hillsborough County and BayCare Health Systems for kicking in money for mental health programs.
A crash on the northbound lanes of the Howard Frankland Bridge caused significant delays on Wednesday morning.
A crash on the northbound lanes of the Howard Frankland Bridge caused significant delays on Wednesday morning. [ Florida 511 ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 19, 2022

Unfortunate reminder. On Wednesday morning, commuters found two of the main bridges between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties blocked due to crashes. A fatal wreck on the Howard Frankland closed the northbound lanes for nearly seven hours, and a crash on the Tampa-side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway shut down the eastbound lanes. The next day, a motorcycle crash closed the eastbound lanes of the Gandy Bridge, the third main bridge between the counties. The massive traffic backups were another reminder of how vulnerable some of the area’s major transportation routes are to disruption and why, as the area adds more people, it is so important that a functional transportation system remain a top priority for local officials.

Airport office takes off. The new office building at Tampa International Airport landed a big tenant, with cybersecurity company OPSWAT agreeing to move into 31,660 square feet on the top floor late this year. The SkyCenter One building is part of a bold, years-long makeover at the area’s busiest airport. The building is close to the new rental car facility and the train to the main terminal. Last year, the airport announced that J.E. Dunn, which built the facility, was moving into the building, as was Avison Young Commercial Real Estate. The building will also house the Hillsborough Aviation Authority, which runs the airport. It’s good to see the airport’s plan to expand its commercial space attracting solid tenants.

How not to hand out a raise. Though Hillsborough County has long operated one of the worst mass transit systems in the country, its bus agency, HART, though perennially cash poor, has been enriched with another resource — an almost infinite tone-deafness to political perception. That hallowed legacy was on full display this month when the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board gave preliminary approval to a 15 percent raise for chief executive Adelee Le Grand. The bumbled handling of this raise isn’t a knock on Le Grand, who has been with the agency little more than a year, so her performance is a work in progress. The increase, worth $37,500 per year, would boost Le Grand’s annual salary to $287,500 — approximately what she asked for during contract negotiations in late 2020. If board members merely wanted to backfill her request, they should have said so. While the move comes after the authority snagged tens of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief assistance, HART officials were unclear where the money would come from, or whether the raise was a one-time deal or a new salary floor. It’s understandable the directors were confused. The salary increase was not listed on the board’s Feb. 7 meeting agenda. So much for transparency in government. And this is a county that wants to put a transportation tax on the ballot this year to, in part, help HART fulfill its mission?

A win for mental health. A hat tip to the Hillsborough County Commission and BayCare Health Systems for kicking in $4 million to support mental and behavioral health services for residents impacted by COVID-19. The Hillsborough County Commission approved nearly $2 million on Wednesday for a contract with mental health nonprofit Tampa Bay Thrives. The county’s share comes from the $285 million in federal funds the county received through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. BayCare Health Systems had agreed to matched the amount. It’s a smart investment, given the toll the pandemic has taken on residents’ mental and emotional well being.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.