Tolled Express Lanes – Do they really relieve congestion? – Part 1

The buzz is growing on Tolled Express Lanes, also known as Managed Lanes. Many states throughout the US have already adopted them, with several others planning to join in during the next decade. Here in Florida, Express Lanes are already in use along former HOV lanes on I-95, as well as a reversible structure along I-595. Both thoroughfares are located in the Miami metropolitan area. In Tampa, Express Lanes will soon go under construction along the Veterans Expressway, and Orlando’s Ultimate I-4 Project will be kicking off within the next few weeks.

Also in Tampa, a massive Express Lanes project is being planned, called the Tampa Bay Express Lanes – or simply TBX. TBX would allow Express Lanes to run along I-275 from just north of Gandy Blvd all the way up to Bearss Ave, as well as I-4 from downtown Tampa to eventually the Polk Parkway toll road, and I-75 from Bruce B. Downs to almost the Hillsborough/Manatee County Line. This project is expected to be executed during the course of the next 30 or so years and will bring a lot of construction along with it. While this project may be good for the economy in terms of construction jobs, the question remains…will it really ease congestion on our highways?

Later this week, I’m going to address several questions regarding Express Lanes, including the one I just asked. First though, I want to provide some information to my readers. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be holding two public workshops to allow for public input this week. These workshops will be held during the following dates at the following locations:

Pinellas County: Tues, 1/27 from 5PM to 7PM @ Minnreg Hall, 6340 126th Ave. N., Largo.

Hillsborough County: Thurs, 1/29 from 5PM to 7PM @ TPepin Hospitality Centre, 4121 N 50th St., Tampa.

Additionally, there will be another event, Florida’s Transportation Visioning Regional Forums, to be held on Monday, 2/3 at 1pm @ the Tampa International Airport Marriott Hotel, 4100 George J Bean Parkway Tampa, Florida 33607.

Will concerns be addressed?

This is the main sticking point that myself and other transportation advocates have with FDOT. How will public concerns be addressed? And furthermore, how long of a period will there be for public input? Connect Tampa Bay Executive Director Kevin Thurman is equally as concerned as I am about the TBX project and how it could adversely impact our communities. We both share the concern that FDOT should follow up these workshops with more public meetings so that there is sufficient time available for public comment. Furthermore, TBX should be a foundation for building a more extensive transportation network that includes Bus Rapid Transit and even Light Rail.

In short…why did FDOT just announce these workshops and provide few details? Our transit plans are consistently grilled by Tea Party insiders and transit advocates alike, so numerous meetings are arranged for those issues. But when it comes to building roadways, there’s almost no public input whatsoever in some cases. And more so, FDOT has not announced just how much this project will cost in the end for us. Until that is revealed, I’m not so sure about if these lanes are really going to reduce congestion.

As Kevin stated in an email, “The number one thing we’ve learned in two years at Connect Tampa bay is if you stand up at a meeting — your voice will be heard. Pinellas is already looking for new funding options for transportation and in Hillsborough, local leaders will start a series of more than 30 meetings in mid-February to get input from everyone before finishing their countywide plan.” I truly believe this, and I hope that you will be able to attend one of the above meetings.

Enjoy your day, and let’s make a difference in shaping Tampa Bay’s transportation network!

HARTride 2012

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