There's growing opposition to a huge highway project that could impact tens of thousands in the region. FDOT wants to create the "Tampa Bay Express" or TBX, a series of tolled expressways aimed at cutting commute times. But many community groups are worried about the impact of the project.
Rick Fernandez was born and raised in Tampa Heights and moved back to the area five years ago to watch it undergo revitalization. He also watched as the area struggled during the construction of I-275 some 50 years ago.
Now, he and many others, are worried a new planned highway construction project, the Tampa Bay Express, will bring neighborhoods like Tampa Heights to their knees.
"It's a bait and switch is really the sense that I have," Fernandez said. "We've been asked to invest and help the inner core and downtown historic area come back and we've done that. And now you want to put this on top of that as a layer over, an extra burden, and frankly, I'm not sure it's a burden these communities can sustain a second time."
FDOT insists the TBX project could be a magic bullet in helping alleviate traffic jams along I-275. It would create separated driving lanes, and you'd have to pay a toll based on traffic volume to use it. Higher volumes of traffic would be a higher fee, and lower volumes, a cheaper rate.
The goal is to keep the traffic moving along the expressway at 45 miles an hour. FDOT says the monies generated by the tolls would be a huge asset in paying for construction of the project and maintaining the new road.
Opponents argue studies show less than 20 percent of drivers would actually pay to use the expressway, so it wouldn't help alleviate traffic jams. They also worry about the limited number of access points to the expressway.
"While some neighborhoods like the university area or Wesley Chapel would have good access, other neighborhoods like Sulphur Springs, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights, would have no access," said Jason Ball with Sunshine Citizens.
At least 100 businesses and homes would also have to be torn down to open up room for the new expressway. Combine that with the ability for drivers to essentially bypass some neighborhoods, opponents see it as a recipe for disaster.
"This is a boondoggle that should not be pursued from the state," said Fernandez.
The "Stop TBX Coalition" is hoping to raise its voices loud enough that Hillsborough County will say no to FDOT's plans, and work on getting the state to consider mass transit instead.
The group is encouraging everyone to learn more about the project. It plans to have a large presence at Tuesday's Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting at 9 a.m., and it will host a protest march in Tampa Heights Saturday, Feb. 6.
The state has an information site set up about Tampa Bay Express at tampabayexpress.com
. FDOT is hosting a community engagement meeting this Tuesday, Feb. 2 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County at 1002 East Palm Avenue in Tampa.
Opponents have an information site at StopTBX.com.
Funding for the TBX project has not been identified right now. It's likely construction is at least 3-5 years away.