TPO Board gives the green light to Transportation Improvement Program

HART busJune 2021 – On June 9, 2021, the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) approved its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a five-year plan that includes $3.1 billion in funding for local transportation projects.

During the five-hour-long meeting, Board members heard recommendations from TPO staff, FDOT Secretary David Gwynn, and the public. Projects proposed for I-275 through Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights as well as the Downtown Interchange (DTI) caused lengthy public comment and debate.

“I’m not at all convinced that it’s a problem that requires a $150 million solution that increases flow rather than taking steps for reduced speed and relieves weaving (…) in traffic,” Nathan Hagan said.

Nearly two dozen community members spoke out against the projects. Shane Rangel, who lives near the existing I-4 flyover, blamed the proposed DTI project on the County’s suburban community. According to Rangel, the project asks community members that reside in the city “to subsidize the decisions made of those who live in less dense areas and who want to cut time on their commutes through the day.”

Lena Young also shared her feelings on the proposed projects affecting I-275.

“You still have the opportunity to address these items (…) that are so contrary to what we worked through over the last years.”

Ms. Young is the founder of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association. The organization is housed in a historic church that sits next to I-275 on Palm Ave.

One community member did support the DTI project. According to Ron Weaver, the project is a compromise when compared to earlier plans. Those plans included the acquisition of 100-200 parcels. The current proposed project only includes the acquisition of 7 parcels.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman proposed to alter plans for additional ramp lanes at the DTI, but she withdrew her motion after FDOT Secretary David Gwynn addressed the project’s safety benefits. According to the Secretary, safety issues at the DTI cause 1000 crashes a year.

“One of our staff had a crash in there today,” the Secretary said.

Improvements at the DTI should significantly reduce injury crashes and crash-related fatalities. Secretary Gwynn estimated the project will reduce injury crashes by 51 percent, serious injury crashes by 48 percent, and fatal injury crashes by 47 percent.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp motioned to remove from the priority list FDOT’s request to add two general purpose lanes to I-275 north of Hillsborough Ave. The motion, which passed 11-4, did not affect lanes south of Hillsborough Ave. that lead into the DTI project.

Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder also suggested limiting the addition of toll lanes to another project at the Westshore Interchange. However, FDOT Secretary David Gwynn cautioned the Board about making changes to the project. According to Mr. Gwynn, FDOT presented the Westshore Interchange project to the federal government with toll lanes as a traffic management strategy. Removal of that strategy could kill the whole project.

After further debate, the TPO voted to approve the TIP 11-4. The meeting also produced a new motion by Commissioner Overman for a study into the feasibility of using CSX Transportation railroad tracks for local and regional rail options. That motion passed unanimously.

“There’s an opportunity for us to, one, learn from other areas that have actually gotten rail approved for their communities- for example the Orlando and Miami area, to get it right, to learn from them,” the Commissioner said. “And then also recognize that it needs to be, as it already is, on our priority list (…) something we start moving on.”

A Robust Plan Six Months in the Making

The annual process of updating the TIP began with the review of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Work Program. The TPO also recommended projects based on its 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan and the recommendations of other planning partners, such as Hillsborough County, the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace, and Plant City, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, the Transportation Disadvantaged Coordinating Board, HART, Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, and Port Tampa Bay. TPO staff presented the TIP to its seven committees and solicited public comments during formal committee presentations. The final step was the presentation of the TIP during a public hearing on June 9. During the hearing, the public made comments to the TPO Board, and the Board received comments made in advance. After consideration of the advisory committees and public comments, the Board subsequently voted on the TIP’s approval.

“The TIP is the culmination of years of work by so many people — your local and state government staff working together, hearing from citizens about needs, coming up with project concepts and detailed designs, and then competing successfully for federal and state funding,” TPO Executive Director Beth Alden said. “It’s exciting to see great projects getting funded, and with the approval of the TIP, those funds can now flow.”

A few of those great projects include:

  • The modernization of the TECO Line Streetcar and its extension into Tampa Heights
  • Sidewalk, bike lane, and transit improvements along Fowler Ave
  • The widening of Reo St between Gray and Cypress from two to four lanes
  • Intersection improvements at specific intersections on Brandon Blvd, Palm River Rd, and US 301

Now that it is approved, the TIP will become effective October 1, 2021–September 30, 2022. When the plan goes into effect on October 1, citizens will be able to use an online mapping tool to get current information about all of the TIP’s projects.

For more information about the newly approved TIP including a full list of projects, please visit the TPO’s website at planhillsborough.org/transportation-improvement-program-tip/. For inquiries, contact Johnny King Alaziz Wong, Ph.D. at 813/699-7370 or wongj@plancom.org.

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