TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) – Tampa Heights neighbors who fought relentlessly against the Florida Department of Transportation’s original plan to add 90 miles of toll lanes to interstates 4, 75 and 275 are once again pushing back against the agency.
This comes after learning FDOT’s Tampa Bay Next project includes toll lanes and highway expansion as an option, much like its controversial predecessor, Tampa Bay Express.
After months of scrutiny and criticism, FDOT leaders backed off TBX earlier this year and said they’d take two years to reexamine the proposal. Neighbors breathed a collective sigh of relief only to find out in May FDOT was still considering the most controversial aspects of the old plan under Tampa Bay Next.
The proposal could lead to FDOT demolishing hundreds of homes in the city’s urban core, which activists say would disproportionately impact lower-income and minority residents.
Tampa Heights is 60 percent African American.
“It would do some of the same things that historically have been done to neighborhoods like ours,” said Lena Young Green, a 30-year Tampa Heights resident and activist with the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association.
Historian Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center pointed out that African American neighborhoods in Tampa have struggled to survive, mostly because they were destroyed by forces beyond their control.
“If you look at the African American neighborhoods, historically, almost all of them are gone through gentrification and through large-scale building projects,” said Kite-Powell, who cited Central Avenue, The Scrub and Dobyville as examples.
Both Central Avenue and The Scrub were significant hubs of African American culture, but urban renewal and construction of I-275 razed those communities. The Dobyville neighborhood, which sat in what we now know as Hyde Park, faced the same fate when the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway was constructed.
“We’ve been expanding the highway since it was built,” said Beverly Ward, an independent consultant and transportation expert who’s voiced opposition to FDOT’s plans. “The disproportionately high and adverse impacts to low-income communities were both social, economic, and it’s a legacy that continues today.”
FDOT has touted the Tampa Bay Next plan as part of the solution to traffic problems in the area.
“We have to keep traffic moving, as anyone knows who drives the interstates. We have a real problem right now with the congestion,” said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.
Carson emphasized while Tampa Bay Next does include toll lane expansion as a possibility, this project has a bigger focus on community input and consideration of toll alternatives.
“We heard the community loud and clear. They’ve been coming to us with several different messages. One is: look at different options for the interstate modernization…and the other is also transit,” said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson. “We just want them to keep giving up the feedback that we need,” she said.
As part of this effort, Carson said FDOT created Community Working Groups to help facilitate conversation on the local and regional levels. More community meetings are planned for this fall.
Neighbors remain cautious, but hopeful that they will be able to work out a better deal with FDOT. Meantime, they are continuing with their own grassroots efforts. The Tampa Heights Civic Association will hold a meeting to discuss alternatives to Tampa Bay Next on Thursday, July 27 from 7 – 8:30 p.m. at 2005 N. Lamar Ave.
For more information on FDOT's proposals, visit www.tampabaynext.com.