After hours of public comment, the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization has voted to move one step closer to getting funding for the Tampa Bay Expressway project.
The board voted 12 to 4 early Thursday morning to approve $6 billion in funding for TBX, which is designed to add toll express lanes on Interstates 4, 75 and 275 in Hillsborough County to help reduce traffic congestion on the county's busy freeways.
The controversial issue drew hundreds of residents to the Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa for the hours-long public hearing.
Residents provided public comment until the wee hours of Thursday morning. The board called for the vote around 2:30 a.m.
What's clear is there are still many unanswered questions -- like how many affordable housing units would be impacted when FDOT buys and bulldozes land up and down I-275.
Even with several missing pieces, members of the metropolitan planning organization were confident enough in the proposal and voted in favor of TBX
But there are some requirements.
Most importantly, FDOT must update the board on a quarterly basis, and must respond to all requests for information. The board will have a chance to review the status of the project each year, leaving the door open in case the entire project needs to be scrapped.
Many residents oppose the project, particularly those living in Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and Ybor City -- neighborhoods in Tampa's core. They argue the project, which would tear down homes and businesses, sets back progress in areas just beginning to rejuvenate after previous highway construction.
Advocates say the project will add much needed capacity to local highways and ease gridlock.
Sixteen members vote on the MPO board. Five of them paid are executives, including TIA’s Joe Lopano and the Tampa Port Authority’s Paul Anderson. It also has more elected county than city officials.
ABC Action News reached out to all the board members last week. Only two said they intend to vote against it: City Council member Harry Cohen and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller.
A group opposed to TBX, Sunshine Citizens, said that while this vote is a setback, they're not backing down. The group put out a tweet after the vote that read, "TBX is still alive ... And so is our fight."
What properties will TBX impact?
If built, TBX will stretch well beyond the core of Tampa pictured below. The full scope of the project's impact — the number homes and businesses it will displace — isn't yet clear. FDOT says any list of properties involved could change. This spring, FDOT told ABC Action News it planned to buy the properties in red below. Land in orange contains a portion of property the state plans to acquire. The state already owns properties in blue.
FDOT says it hasn't developed maps of TBX's impact beyond this area.