Thursday, June 13, 2019

I-275 Projects Survive Despite All Democrat County Commissioners Voting Against Them

Common sense prevailed Tuesday night as the Hillsborough MPO voted to keep FDOT's  I-275 expansion/improvement projects in their plans.

According to this Tampa Bay Times article, the vote was 11-5 to keep the projects in the MPO's plans.

We will note that all four Democrat Hillsborough county commissioners, including countywide commissioners Pat Kemp, Kimberly Overman and Mariella Smith, voted to remove those vital projects from the MPO's plans. They were joined by Democrat BOCC Chair Les Miller along with Democrat Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco.

It was a packed meeting room with a small overflow, not nearly the burgeoning crowd that showed up a few years ago opposing TBX.

The number of sympathizers with Sunshine Citizens, a transit advocacy group who want to tear down I-275, replace it with street level light rail and oppose adding capacity to the interstate, has grown smaller. Sunshine Citizens still wore their "StopTBX" stickers and T-shirts as if they were still fighting the old TBX battle.

But that is no longer the case.

FDOT changed their plans for I-275 widening north of downtown, the most contentious segment of their interstate improvement plans in Hillsborough County. FDOT's widening and improvement plans for congestion relief and safety in that corridor, are being done within the property footprint that FDOT owns

For transparency, I did speak in support of these projects.

As we posted here, a vast majority want I-275 widened. It is an interstate corridor used by over 250K people everyday.

I-275 is vital to the Tampa Bay region as it moves hundreds of thousands of people, goods and services everyday. I-275 is vital to a county of 1.4 million, a tri-county region of over 3 million and the millions of tourist and seasonal residents who come to the Tampa Bay area.

I-275 serves as a critical local and regional corridor for cancer patients going to Moffitt Cancer Center, veterans going to the VA Hospital, students going to both Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses of USF, and tourists going to Busch Gardens.

I-275 is a major evacuation route for the Tampa Bay region, especially for those in South Tampa along the bay and hundreds of thousands who live in the coastal areas of Pinellas County.
Evacuation routes in
Hillsborough Florida
(click to enlarge)
Evacuation routes in
Pinellas County
(click to enlarge)
It is unfortunate and astonishing how those who spoke on behalf of Sunshine Citizens, many whom who live in Seminole Heights, mocked so many others.

They mocked the fact that I-275 is an important evacuation route in Tampa Bay. They mocked those who live in Pinellas and Tampa coastal areas who use I-275. They mocked those who live in Pasco County and New Tampa who use I-275.

Those who mock the safety of others cannot be taken seriously.

Sunshine Citizens basic attitude is their voice is the only one that can be heard and no one else matters.

Citizens from all over the county and region spoke in support of the projects. There were even other speakers from Seminole Heights, not associated with Sunshine Citizens, who spoke in support of the projects with the changes FDOT made to mitigate their original concerns.

Sunshine Citizens position is an ideological view and not a rational one for policy making decisions. .

FDOT District 7 Secretary David Gwynn did an excellent job at the beginning of the meeting to present the reality that the north corridor of I-275 is congested, accident prone, dangerous and needs to be widened and safety improvements added. Gwynn explained that sound barriers for minimizing noise and landscaping will also be added to the corridor. These improvements will replace a chain link fence and weeds we see along there today.

Gwynn also emphasized that Hillsborough County risks losing hundreds of millions of dollars of FDOT funding, taxes we already have paid, if the MPO removes these vital projects.

Hillsborough County already lost $600 million of interstate funding in 2017 when those funds were diverted to Orlando because all the interstate projects were delayed - basically due to Sunshine Citizens.

The nastiness of some comments made by Sunshine Citizens were shameful, especially those aimed at Gwynn and FDOT.  FDOT worked diligently to minimize negative impacts to their neighborhoods and provide some positive benefits with the changes they made.

But this kind of language, courtesy of a tweet by Tampa Bay Times reporter Caitlin Johnston who was live tweeting throughout the meeting, is how Sunshine Citizens thinks they will persuade people to their side.
Tweet courtesy of Times Reporters
Caitlin Johnston
Sunshine Citizens are uncompromising. That is how ideologues behave

These I-275 projects are regional priorities of the TMA that represents the MPO's of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

All of the Tampa Bay MPO's confirmed at last Friday's TMA meeting the I-275 projects were in their plans. Commissioners Kemp and Overman, who attended that meeting, never disclosed their predisposition for removing them from Hillsborough MPO's plan.

Commissioners Kemp and Overman live in Seminole Heights. Overman helped launch Sunshine Citizens and the StopTBX campaign several years ago. While her and Mariella Smith supported the AFT tax, we do not recall either of them running their campaign last year on a platform opposing interstate projects or tearing down I-275.

We bet there are many countywide voters who do not know their position on such an important issue.

They do now with their vote Tuesday night.

Opposition to FDOT's plans to widen and improve I-275 north of downtown is dwindling. Sunshine Citizens opposition is now seen as irrational. The media can even no longer sympathize with their uncompromising ideology and the public is better informed about the issue.

Kemp, a transit advocate who keeps pushing the CSX rail lines, displayed her incoherence or ignorance of process and Gwynn quickly corrected her as Times reporter Johnston tweeted:

Tweet courtesy of Times reporters
Caitlin Johnston
Kemp, Overman, Smith and Miller voted to tie themselves to a diminishing and downward slide of opposition to the I-275 widening and safety improvements much needed north of downtown.

These commissioners voted to tie themselves to Sunshine  Citizens leader Michelle Cookson who stated she wants to make "car travel painful". They voted to tie themselves with a group who displayed disregard for the safety of others, a group who publicly displayed such disrespectful nastiness in their comments and who publicly mocked others in the county and region.

Commissioner Kemp is running for re-election next year for her countywide seat.

Commissioner Miller, term limited in his single District 3 seat next year, has filed to run countywide for Clerk of the Court.

A sense of reality and common sense prevailed Tuesday night over irrational ideology.

However, the fight will continue again next June when the MPO must vote again to keep these projects in their plan.

 And it will be an election year.

1 comment:

  1. Hillsborough voters elected these people. Makes one wonder about their critical thinking capabilities.