Slamming the Brakes on the Tampa Bay Express

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By Jim Bleyer

The Florida Department of Transportation plan to widen Interstate-275 with an express toll lane, known as TBX, faces burgeoning opposition from social and environmental activists as well as those who believe it is poor transportation policy.

The DOT’s failure to consider the fracturing of neighborhoods along the proposed expansion and the environmental consequences has commanded the attention of the U.S. Department of Transportation which must enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

“The TBX favors the high-income population over the low-income population who until now, have had no say in the proposal,” said Beverly Ward, a highly-credentialed, independent consultant who has conducted numerous transportation and transit-related research projects for a variety of state and federal agencies.

Speaking to the Tampa Bay Sierra Club conservation committee, Ward pointed out the U.S. interstate highway system was originally not intended to go through cities. Other metropolitan areas are replacing highways that traverse municipalities with parks and pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods nstead of displacing disenfranchised populations, she said, adding the TBX “is a mid-twentieth century solution to a 21st century problem.”

Ward’s audience is a natural ally. The national Sierra Club, some 2.3 million members strong, opposes any expansion of the interstate highway system.

The local Metropolitan Planning Organization did not have a civil rights point person when the TBX scheme was hatched and meaningful public involvement, until recently, was non-existent.  Meanwhile, Governor Rick Scott’s office and the Florida Department of Transportation have been acting as if the TBX is a fait accompli.  The FDOT TBX website propagandizes one side of the issue to the extreme, labeling affected neighborhoods as “reconnected.”

Doug Hecox, spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration,  told Tampa Bay Beat his agency devotes “a lot of manpower” to environmental justice.  He assured us all elements of the community will have the opportunity to weigh in on both sides of the TBX issue.

Hecox would not put a timeline on the FHA investigation of possible civil rights violations involving TBX.

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