St. Petersburg, Florida -- Tampa Bay drivers' congested rush hour commute is going to stay for now, but some worry it will stay forever.
A local group called Tampa Bay Connects says the state's transportation department is putting money into projects that do not need it as badly.
An example, the group says, is Orlando's I-4 corridor project. It is longer than Tampa's I-275 project between I-4 and Gateway. The Orlando project is 21 miles, making it easier on drivers than Tampa's, which is only 16 miles, making it more congested. The group also argues Orlando has less traffic and does not need the state dollars for its projects as much as Tampa Bay does.
However, the Florida Department of Transportation says that is not true, and the money is where it is needed.
"Orlando has traffic issues. They have as much, if not more than, Tampa Bay area," says FDOT's District 7 secretary. "I don't think the Tampa Bay area can say they have been neglected. Look at the I-4 connector we are going to be finishing up at the end of the year, the I-275 job we have currently going."
Phil Compton is a member of Tampa Bay Connects and says what FDOT needs to do is get the Legislature to fund Tampa Bay's traffic needs because he says Tampa Bay has the worst traffic congestion in the state.
"Let's put our local county and state taxes to work to serve us," says Compton. "We get a tiny percentage of what other places like Orlando get in state and federal taxes. They have a great new sun rail system that goes in next spring. We get nothing. We get eight percent as much money and we have 20 percent more traffic. It's just not fair."
Plans for rebuilding or replacing the Howard Frankland Brigdge are in the early stages, but Tampa Bay Connects wants to know the state dollars will be there to fund express lanes and a rail system. FDOT says rail costs $1 billion alone, not including the system on both ends.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn asked Steinman at a Hillsbourgh County policy meeting if Tampa was doing what it needed to do to allow for express lanes and a light rail on the Howard Frankland for that future project. Steinman responded that he cannot know those answers yet without knowing exactly what the Howard Frankland Bridge will need.
"It's hard to say because we are in the early stages of planning to fix the bridge," says Steinman. "We have three options: replace it, add managed lanes like express lanes, and or add a rail envelope."
Whatever the pubic and FDOT decide, the Tampa Bay Connects group wants to make sure the state uses more of its funding for Tampa Bay's stronger needs than other cities with what it believes need less.
You can get more information at an open house Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. There's a formal presentation at 6:00 p.m.