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Statement Regarding FDOT Response to TBX being named a National Boondoggle

January 19, 2016

Sunshine Citizens Statement
Regarding FDOT District 7 statement in response to Tampa Bay Express (TBX) being identified in national list of worst highway project boondoggles

Tampa, Fla.- January 19, 2016 – Today, Sunshine Citizens released the following statement:

“Today, Florida Consumer Action Network, in conjunction with national public affairs research firm the Frontier Group and the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund, released the report ‘Highway Boondoggles 2.’

The Tampa Bay Express (TBX) project was called out in the national report as one of the 12 worst highway projects in the United States for expanding roads to little benefit, with a multi-billion dollar cost.

The report’s data and findings support what Sunshine Citizens, and the Stop TBX coalition of concerned residents, business owners and neighborhood associations, have been asserting throughout 2015.

TBX is too costly, short-sighted and squanders crucial transportation funds on a boondoogle project that wastes taxpayer money and does not meet the community’s transportation needs. Most egregious of all is the claim that TBX will alleviate congestion. As the Highway Boondoggles 2 report points out, “State officials admit that a decades-old plan to construct toll lanes would not solve the region’s problems with congestion, while displacing critical community job-training and recreational facilities.” The report also cites well-established research that demonstrates that widening highways does not alleviate congestion. (2)

In the wake of this very important national report, even more alarming is the obfuscation in the FDOT District 7 office’s official statement released to media following the report’s release. FDOT District 7 office sent out a release with several misleading statements which we want to address.

As quoted in the Tampa Tribune(1):

1) FDOT states:
“For many years FDOT has been working with various communities along I-275 about the future of the Tampa Bay interstate system and future express lanes, including the ultimate downtown interchange project (I-275 and I-4).  There is a very delicate balance between impacts to established communities and relieving the congestion faced by the 180,000 vehicles a day that travel I-275 as residents, visitors, commuters, truckers, and more move through this region.”

Sunshine Citizens response:
Tampa-Hillsborough County’s future is not advanced by a highway plan conceived of in the late 80s and early 90s, before research and experience revealed that induced demand would ensure that no amount of widening could cure congestion, and society’s evolving preferences would favor walkable, centrally located neighborhoods. So many things have changed in our county, in the country, and in transportation technology over the past 20 years that FDOT should not be relying on this outdated study and solution. Even with the short term crash in oil and gas prices bloating the recent traffic counts FDOT cites, these figures are dramatically below the traffic figures FDOT predicted back in 1996, which were used as the fundamental basis for needing to widen the interstate in any form. They projected daily traffic of 200,000-250,000 for most of the highway, with a peak of 332,000 near Malfunction Junction. The world FDOT envisions, and the world which actually exists are two very different things.

There is no “balance” in building TBX. There is only the state government choosing who wins and who loses economically, based on where they live and how much they make. The balance that needs struck is between providing solutions for drivers and providing alternatives to driving.

2) FDOT states:
“The not-so affectionately called Malfunction Junction, the I-4/I-275 (Downtown Interchange), needs to be completely rebuilt to relieve local and regional congestion and to accommodate transit. Express lanes are an integral part of the system and will help reduce traffic congestion for everyone.  Congestion will be reduced not only on the Interstate but equally importantly, on the parallel local roads.”

Sunshine Citizens response:
Widening roads does NOT reduce congestion- this is the central point in the Highway Boondoggles 2 report. It is troubling that FDOT continues to assert that TBX will relieve congestion- this is false.
The Downtown Interchange was largely rebuilt (2002-2006) at a cost of over $80 million dollars. FDOT stated at that time that they had fixed the congestion, and would not need to update it again for at least 20 years.
In light of the extensive and costly work FDOT has performed to I-275 in recent years, and considering the actual traffic counts continue to be dramatically less than what FDOT predicted as the basis for highway expansion, we question the department’s frequent insistence that the highway suffers from a severe congestion issue. The American Transportation Research Institute’s 2015 Congestion Impact Analysis of Freight Significant Highway Locations(3) ranks the interchange (I-4 at I-275) 69th in the nation in its national ranking by congestion index. GPS data shows an average speed of 41 mph, and an average speed at peak times of 32 mph. Not much different than the 45mph that TBX attempts to offer but doesn’t guarantee for a toll of up to $2 per mile.

3) FDOT states:

“We are committed to working with the community to ensure we understand their concerns and what they want their communities to look like.”

Sunshine Citizens response:
If FDOT were listening to the community, it would be considering alternatives to highway widening or at least making commitments to fund operating expenses of other modes of transit, as it did in the Orlando area. The only commitment FDOT has made to the community is to push this costly plan forward regardless of what citizens want.

There is a real difference between a local community being listened to and plans being put in effect to address their needs, and the state government deciding that they didn’t like the input they got from the community, ignore it, come up with their own, and then blame the community when a $6 billion plan for toll lanes is wholly detached from what the people paying for it said they were willing to pay for. See: Tampa Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Imagine2040 (4) findings for what the citizens of this community consistently ranked as their first priority: transit. Express toll lanes were ranked last.

4) FDOT states:
“FDOT has always stated this region needs a viable transit system and jointly with HART we are doing a study to determine what premium transit looks like in the Tampa Bay area.” – FDOT

Sunshine Citizens response:
The billions of dollars FDOT wants to spend on the TBX plan is money we will not have to invest in a viable transit system. TBX introduces variable rate toll lanes to Tampa’s interstate highways. TBX does not provide HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, or dedicated funding for transit planning, expanding current HART bus service or plans for light rail. We need multi-modal solutions which provide travelers with alternatives to driving, and provide commerce with improved accessibility to established communities in the region. (For example, North Pinellas and West Pasco have no access to the interstate system).

5) FDOT states:
“The discussion has to include the local governments about how the operating and maintenance of the system will be funded.  Premium transit could be:  Bus Rapid Transit in transit dedicated lanes; light rail like Pinellas County has determined to be the choice mode; commuter rail like SUNRail in Orlando; or any of the options included in the attached document”

Sunshine Citizens response:
FDOT is delaying this region’s progress on multi-modal transportation by forging ahead with their plans for TBX at an accelerated pace, before fully studying all options. If they can provide $1 million dollars to HART to study bus routes, they can surely set aside the funds needed to develop an improved transportation network which offers alternatives to driving, and improved flow of commerce. The local community cannot decide what that value proposition looks like if the only “choice” presented is a bizarre highway widening with toll lanes priced to let high income drivers cut the line on everyone else.

We need a comprehensive plan that provides real alternatives to driving if we want to compete with other communities in the 21st Century. It is well known this area has a bad reputation for being automobile dependent that is holding us back. While local governments share in the blame, this is not a reason to double down on the mistakes of the past. Talk about alternatives has gone on for decades. It is time to make a commitment to change for the benefit of the region and the state.

6) FDOT states:
“FDOT believes transit is important to this region and just last month purchased a second site for an intermodal terminal.  FDOT now owns a site in Downtown Tampa and a site in the Westshore Business District.  The pieces of the transportation infrastructure puzzle are falling into place.”

Sunshine Citizens response:
We have yet to see FDOT allocate funding for these projects. If the purchase of multi-modal centers is to be commended, where are the plans for what will be built in these locations? Spending tens of millions on land purchases in an up market, for undefined future use, while aggressively pushing this boondoggle highway project without regional mass transit plans in place, is putting the cart before the horse.

When FDOT makes backroom deals with corporate giants like the Blackstone Group to decide the fate of our regional mass transit system, with the public’s money but without public input, they just further exemplify why the community rejects their top-down approach.

In Conclusion:
We are in agreement with the findings of the Highway Boondoggles 2 Report, that the billions allocated for TBX would be better spent on repairing existing infrastructure and focusing on alternatives to driving, such as rail, mass transit, streetcars and bicycling/pedestrian enhancements.

Sunshine Citizens remains committed to petitioning all relevant government officials to remove the current iteration of Tampa Bay Express- both starter project and master plan – from the Transportation Improvement Plan and Long Range Transportation Plan. Tampa Bay Express destroys irreplaceable community assets, induces more congestion with a sole focus on single occupancy vehicle traffic, and only offers variable rate toll lanes which cost up to $2 per mile. TBX is fundamentally wrong for this region and will not provide long-term economic growth and prosperity.

In conjunction with the Stop TBX coalition of neighborhood associations, business owners, residents and related advocacy groups, Sunshine Citizens will continue to advocate for our vision of better transportation, smarter growth and positive economic development for our area.


About the StopTBX Coalition
The StopTBX Coalition has successfully and rapidly grown. Drawing interest, support and media attention from all over the Tampa Bay area, the coalition is made up of neighborhood associations, business owners, residents and related advocacy groups. The group has organized many actions in direct response to and opposition of the FDOT’s Tampa Bay Express project (TBX), which will drastically widen I-275, decimate the Tampa urban core and substantially harm efforts for multi modal transportation and economic growth in Tampa Bay.

About Sunshine Citizens
Sunshine Citizens is a non-partisan, grassroots advocacy group focused on smarter growth and transit solutions. We are actively building coalitions of like-minded groups, citizens and local leaders in Tampa Bay who share our vision for better choices, smarter growth and positive economic development for our area.

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