In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2 (the original came out in 2014), U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group teamed up to profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Streetsblog will be serializing the case studies in the report. Yesterday, we looked at Connecticut’s $11.5 billion I-95 widening. Today, we focus on a proposed $3.3 billion highway widening in Tampa.
The Florida Department of Transportation acknowledges that a decades-old plan to construct toll lanes allowing paying drivers to bypass congested traffic on I-275, I-75 and I-4 in Tampa would not solve the region’s problems with congestion, but is pushing the project forward anyway in the face of community opposition.
Starting in the late 1950s, the Florida Department of Transportation built I-275 through the middle of Tampa, “ripping holes through neighborhoods such as the historic Central Avenue business district, Seminole Heights and West Tampa,” as a local newspaper columnist put it.
In 1996, plans to expand that stretch of I-275 were approved by the Federal Highway Administration. That project was never built. For years the plans laid dormant. In the meantime, the neighborhoods began to rebuild themselves.
Under an agreement with the state, community institutions used land owned by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to expand their presence (on the condition that any structures would be demolished were the highway ever to go through). The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, for example, raised and spent $1 million to convert the former Faith Temple Baptist Church on the property into a community center that now offers pre-college and pre-professional classes for local teens.
Outside the center are a community garden, a playground and a walking and biking trail. Improvements in the building, both planned and already under way, were stopped by a November 2015 cease-and-desist order from FDOT, indicating the highway project is moving forward.