1. Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Tampa Bay Next! New! Improved! The Same!

An aerial view of Tampa Heights next to Interstate 275, one of the neighborhoods that would be affected by a proposed widening of the roadway to include toll lanes.
An aerial view of Tampa Heights next to Interstate 275, one of the neighborhoods that would be affected by a proposed widening of the roadway to include toll lanes.
Published Jun. 9, 2017

Thank goodness the powers that be finally realized what a miserable, horrible idea it was to create the Tampa Bay Express, otherwise known as TBX, which was supposed to craft a master plan to meet the transportation needs of the region for decades to come.

And now it is gone. Good riddance, too. Ba-bye. See ya! Toodles.

In its place comes the fancy-schmancy Tampa Bay Next — The Future Of Transportation. Now, at last, we're getting somewhere.

TBX was doomed from the start, since it envisioned blowing up huge swaths of Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights to make room for more lanes. TBX also envisioned spending $6 billion on some 90 miles of toll roads along Interstates 4, 75 and 275. And there was the possibility of eventually folding in a light rail component, too.

And there was a great hue and cry from the citizenry over having their lovely neighborhoods razed all in the service of pouring more cement.

Thus Florida Department of Transportation officials huddled and stroked their chins and gazed upon their navels until someone brightened with a brilliant idea. Let's get rid of that foul TBX and consign it to the dust bin of history. And great huzzas emanated from DOT. For the people would be happy and thrilled to have this threat to their homes shuttered forever.

But what to replace TBX with? Now there's a question for you.

So it was after great thought and brow-furrowing, DOT came up with Tampa Bay Next, which also included a stylish logo. Very impressive indeed.

The mission for Tampa Bay Next would be to create a transportation network that will in all likelihood call for nuking Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights, expanding lanes, spending $6 billion on 90 miles of toll lanes along Interstates 4, 75 and 275, as well as a light rail component. It will be marvelous.

But wait a minute, you're probably thinking, aren't TBX and Tampa Bay Next exactly the same thing? You are so naive.

Merely because TBX and Tampa Bay Next will undertake virtually the same goals doesn't mean that they are remotely similar. For starters, they have different names. And who could deny that Tampa Bay Next has a snazzier logo than that dreary old TBX (ugh). Someone worked very hard on that. How ungrateful could you be?

As well it certainly appears Tampa Bay Next is dedicated to that age-old bureaucratic enterprise of talking everyone to death about transportation.

In all probability there won't be a shovel dug into the ground for the next couple of years, plenty of time for Tampa Bay Next to spend its days attending one community forum after another, with officials handing out lavishly-produced fliers, showing off elaborate PowerPoint presentations and perhaps even lugging around models of how wonderful everything will look once Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights are reduced to rubble to make way for 35-lane toll roads.

DOT officials want to "brainstorm" and break out into focus groups and conduct town halls, listening tours and perform community outreach to make the public feel as if the state actually gives a rat's patootie about what they think before imploding the city.

Many other communities have tackled the challenge of creating a productive transportation grid. You'll be shocked to know these places actually build stuff. But here? Well, we send delegations off to places like St. Louis to gaze upon the splendor of that city's transit system. And then they return to Tampa and dedicate themselves to spending the next few years flap-jawing about what might be.

In a way then, it seems perfectly reasonable TBX morphed into Tampa Bay Next - The Future of Transportation. After all, that's what we are awfully good at it here - yapping about what comes next, envisioning the future. It spares everyone of talking about the present, which is oh so yesterday.