State highway officials kicked off a regional discussion on the future of transportation in Tampa Bay with more than 100 people from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando, Polk and Pasco counties.
The initial workshop for what is dubbed, Tampa Bay Next, was at the Bryan Glazer Jewish Community Center in Tampa on May 24.
During the next two years, the Florida Department of Transportation will schedule more workshops, meetings and community outreach events in all areas of the region to get input on how to solve gridlock on the area’s highways.
By late 2019, state transportation officials expect to present the details of a new road project that will replace the controversial Tampa Bay Express, or TBX.
That project called for nearly 90 miles of new toll lanes on Interstate 275 from St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel, and along Interstate 4 to Plant City and south on Interstate 75 to Manatee County.
The TBX project met with strong resistance from residents of neighborhoods in and around downtown Tampa.
Pasco County’s elected officials and chambers of commerce, however, strongly supported the TBX as a relief to traffic congestion and a potential impetus for future economic growth.
Tampa Bay Next, at least initially, will deal with expectations, not details.
“We’re going to focus on our ideal vision,” said Andrea Henning, executive director of Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College. “Tonight is more about listening.”
The company will facilitate community work sessions for the state transportation department in efforts to reach consensus on what Tampa Bay Next will bring to the table.
Six working groups will focus on local issues.
Those groups will cover Pasco/Hernando counties; North and West Hillsborough County; Downtown/East Tampa; Westshore/West Tampa/South Tampa; Pinellas County; and East Hillsborough/ Polk County.
Participants broke out into 20 discussion groups that reported back with broad-stroke views on the area’s future transportation needs, and wants.
- Integrated multi-modal system
- Connect people to jobs
- Reliable trip times
- Complete streets
- Automated, connected and electric vehicle systems
- Better bicycle mobility
- Urban freeway removal
- Ensuring that communities are not broken apart
One woman put in a plug for her pet peeve: She wants all bus stops to come with shaded cover.
Others spoke about a “sense of urgency” in coming up with answers.
There were also skeptics who don’t trust the state transportation department, in light of the battle over TBX.
“We need to work together,” said Danielle Moran, public involvement manager with HNTB Corporation, which is consulting with the Tampa Bay Next. But, she added, “We know it’s going to take time to build trust.”
She got a round of boos when she brought up toll lanes.
“Express lanes are one of the options on the table,” Moran said. “We’re happy to talk with you about other options.”
A second breakout session focused on four issues: safety, multi-model choices, technology and funding/policy.
Participants later voted electronically for their top priorities in each category, choosing from a list of 10 options.
- Designing streets to focus on people’s safety, not vehicles
- Connecting major regional activity centers
- Leveraging existing assets and infrastructure
- Re-prioritizing $6 billion of TBX funds for community priorities
Future workshops will begin to drill down on what local communities envision for transportation.
Moran said there appeared to be at least an early consensus for an integrated, complete transportation system.
“The difficulty is how do we get there,” she said.
For information on Tampa Bay Next including the working groups and community outreach events, visit TampaBayNext.com.
Published June 6, 2017