Most people still think of Tampa as a sprawling, car-centric town, but that is starting to change. In 2014, Smart Growth America [PDF] found that Tampa is shifting toward a more walkable development pattern. The city is starting to build out a bicycle network, and its Riverwalk project is bringing people out to stroll downtown.
Tampa’s recent progress could be overwhelmed, however, by Florida DOT’s $6 billion Tampa Bay Express project, a 90-mile road widening scheme that will chew up city neighborhoods to add toll lanes to three interstates. Information about the project’s finances is hazy, and Florida DOT has proven that its traffic projections for toll road projects are worthless. Neverthless, regional decision makers are set to take up the plan this week.
On Wednesday, the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on Tampa Bay Express.
If the highway widenings are built, Governor Rick Scott’s state DOT will seize properties to ram through the new lanes. Of the residents who’ll be uprooted, 80 percent are black or Latino, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Sprawling development is sure to follow. “You would see a weakening of the trend toward the revitalization of in-town neighborhoods and instead new housing stock farther and farther from the urban core,” said Thomas Hawkins of the smart growth advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida.
But there’s a chance the highway plan will be defeated, thanks to a grassroots coalition known as Sunshine Citizens that has pushed back against Florida DOT’s agenda.
“For $6 billion we could have a truly multimodal, comprehensive transportation system,” said Michelle Cookson, a leader of Sunshine Citizens who lives in Seminole Heights, one of the neighborhoods that will be affected by the widening. “We know this is the absolute worst choice for us.”