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  1. Opinion

Hooper: Gandy residents deserve an audience with the governor

Published Jan. 16, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott came to town Wednesday on another jobs tour, this time joining USAA as it christened its campus just off the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway near Brandon.

It's a beautiful new building that currently employs 800 people with the potential to go up to 1,200. The governor is right to champion job growth as we continue to climb out of the economic recession.

I look forward, however, to when the governor comes to town to do more than celebrate jobs, jobs, jobs. I long to see the governor in a genuine town hall meeting, giving people the chance to express concerns on a wide array of issues.

And I'm pretty sure Jerry Frankhouser would be at the head of the line.

Frankhouser, president of the Bayside West Neighborhood Association, has some real concerns about the proposed $192 million elevated lanes project that the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority wants to build to connect the western end of the Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge.

Frankhouser is not alone. A number of residents who live on or near Gandy Boulevard came to the association's monthly meeting Monday. They expressed concern about the impact the proposal could have on their neighborhood.

A few in the group offered support to the elevated lanes proposal, but most expressed dismay. Why?

• They don't believe it will solve the traffic issues plaguing Gandy Boulevard during rush hour. Drivers may avoid the toll, or they may not be on their way to Pinellas County.

•They think the yearslong construction project will cripple businesses along the corridor just as it is beginning to show life.

• They think a tunnel under Gandy Boulevard would be more viable.

• They understandably worry about the overall impact on their quality of life.

From my vantage point, as someone who doesn't live in the area, it seems to be a matter of competing interests. Project proponents argue it's needed to alleviate the traffic jams along Gandy, and it improves hurricane evacuation routes heading out of Pinellas.

The expressway authority also stated in a recent story by Times reporter Rick Danielson that the elevated lanes could provide a viable alternative when the Florida Department of Transportation begins renovating the Interstate 275 interchange at State Road 60 in the West Shore area.

In short, do the needs of the many who don't live along the corridor outweigh the needs of the few who do?

It's a topic worthy of further debate and discussion. The expressway authority reportedly plans to hold town hall meetings with Gandy community residents later this year. I bet Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a member of the expressway authority, will attend at least some of the meetings. And I bet city council member Harry Cohen, who represents the area, will attend some, if not all, of the meetings.

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But it would be so meaningful if Gov. Scott could attend one of the meetings. It would be so significant if he came and listened to the pleas of residents, like the woman who has lived in the Gandy area since 1951. It would be so magnanimous if he held an earnest discussion with well-meaning residents like Frankhouser.

In short, it would be so touching if he governed more with his heart and less with his head.

In a time when some neighbors don't even know each other, I respect the Bayside West residents who still gather for fellowship and to create a connection. Whether you believe the connector is a needed addition or a blight on the neighborhood and its businesses, you have to admit, the residents deserve to be heard.

By the governor.

That's all I'm saying.

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