Tampa Advocates Are Fighting Like Hell Against a $6 Billion Highway Plan

Interstate 275
A boy runs under I-275, which bifurcates neighborhoods including Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor. FDOT wants to widen the highway as part of its Tampa Bay Express plan. Photo: Chris Vela, Sunshine Citizens

Grassroots advocates in Tampa are going up against Florida DOT in a standoff with huge implications for the future of the city.

FDOT is pushing a massive regional highway expansion scheme, known as Tampa Bay Express, that would add 90 miles of tolled lanes over five counties. The plan contains nothing for transit, nothing for walkability. It’s a cars-only mega-project dreamed up 20 years ago that will uproot local residents — mostly in black and Latino neighborhoods.

The members of Sunshine Citizens, meanwhile, have a very different vision. They want the region to be connected by multiple modes of transportation, with good transit options and walkable neighborhoods. For two years, Sunshine Citizens leader Michelle Cookson and other volunteers have been organizing protests, packing meetings, and demanding a better solution from FDOT

Opposing a highway mega-project is always hard work. You have to take on a lot of people who stand to make a lot of money. But Cookson isn’t giving up. “We will not stop,” she told Streetsblog in an interview. “The people have had it.”

FDOT's Tampa Bay Express Lanes project would add 90 miles of highway lanes over five counties at the cost of at least $6 billion. Map: FDOT
FDOT’s Tampa Bay Express Lanes project would add 90 miles of highway lanes over five counties at the cost of at least $6 billion. Map: FDOT

Advocates have made breakthroughs and suffered setbacks in the past year. In June, the Tampa City Council voted to remove the highway expansion from the list of projects in the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization’s long-range plan.

Later that month, hundreds of people opposed to the highway expansion packed a meeting of the MPO that ran until 2 a.m. But the agency went ahead and kept the project in the long-range plan.

Then in December, FDOT project leader Debbie Hunt, who had become the public face of the project, “abruptly resigned,” according to Florida Politics. FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold called for hitting the “reset button” on the project.

But to advocates’ chagrin, FDOT’s idea of a “reset” could be worse than what it replaces.

Earlier this month, for instance, FDOT unveiled a “new vision” for the Howard Frankland Bridge, a highway bridge that connects Old Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg and needs to be replaced. The agency’s new “vision” calls for an even wider bridge than the old plan, to avoid replacing lanes that are currently un-priced with toll lanes.

Bill Jones, FDOT’s current local lead on the project, paid lip service to the idea of a “reset” in an address to the City Council, promising “enhanced collaboration” with the public and a “comprehensive transportation vision.”

But Cookson and other advocates aren’t satisfied. The plan still widens highways through neighborhoods like Seminole Heights and West Tampa, ripping up at least 150 properties and offering nothing in return.

“A lot of the public has looked at this plan and said they don’t like it,” Cookson said. “We all agree we need a better transportation solution. Where we’re in disagreement is that FDOT says this is the only thing we can have — it’s roads only.”

Cookson wants the state to go back to the drawing board and develop a different long-range approach to solving transportation problems.

“We can do better,” she said. “We know where we want to go next — it’s a transportation system, it’s not a widened highway.”

  • Anonymous

    The plan adds needed capacity to the existing highway MEDIAN. It does NOT take right-of-way at all in the historic district. That is a misconception that is being boasted by ill informed reporters that only listen to one side. The existing homeowners that already abut the interstate in Seminole Heights will get new and attractive noise barriers that will block their view and the noise from the interstate that they NOW deal with on a daily basis. And, there’s no transit in this area, because the very same people that are fighting TBX are the ones that voted down (more than one time) a tax increase to pay for it. This area has a population with their head in the sand. If they want a ‘transportation system’ they need to buck up and pay for it and stop crying about what is NOT happening to there neighborhood. Get all the facts before you report.

  • What on earth are they tearing down all the buildings for then? $6 billion, by the way, would pay for a lot of transit.

  • TG2017

    Several properties in Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights will be demolished. There’s room for the TBX lanes in the median through some portions of West Tampa, but not on 275 north of Downtown or at “malfunction junction” as there is no median here.

    Additionally, the transit referendum passed by a wide margin in the City of Tampa. It was the suburban and rural portions of Hillsborough County that turned against the transit referendum and resulted in its failure.

    Before you go being flippant and aggressive, I highly recommend that you dig deeper into your research.

  • Randy Wind

    Hey Anonymous, this is not a “transportation system”. I live in Seminole Heights and we would have no access to get on or off this thing. We would get the neighborhood further destroyed for people who choose to live in Pasco County. I know you are making money off it but don’t pretend it is something people who live in central Tampa will want.

  • T.j. Cawley

    “attractive noise-barrier”………thats a joke, right?

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