TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) – Instead of a transportation plan that leaves neighbors frustrated and fearful of losing their homes, residents of Tampa Heights will on Thursday welcome a presentation of a progressive plan that offers alternatives to the interstate expansion being considered by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Architect and urban designer Joshua Frank will share his “Bifurcation to Boulevard” presentation, which calls for demolishing 11 miles of I-275 between downtown and the University of South Florida. The interstate would be replaced with a Champs Elysees-style boulevard that incorporates mass transit.
"Replacing [part of I-275] with a boulevard is the smartest thing the city could do. It’s perhaps the most impactful and progressive project that's happened in the southeast US arguably since Reconstruction after the Civil War," he said.
Frank came up with the plan as part of his master’s thesis for the USF. He spent a year in the community learning what was important to neighbors, and then used that information to configure a plan that also addressed the region’s transportation needs.
“There would not be a single house or piece of property that would have to be acquired,” said Frank. “In fact, you'd be giving 36 acres of potentially taxable property to the city and to the neighborhoods."
That’s a big change from FDOT proposals that have called for adding tolled express lanes, which would destroy hundreds of homes.
But FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson says the agency has turned a new page on the transportation discussion, and the Tampa Bay Next will allow for more community input.
“We are looking at different options that include express lanes and don’t include express lanes,” she said. “We have to get traffic flowing, but we also have to satisfy the needs of the community. So, it is a real delicate balance.”
FDOT was heavily criticized for its handling of the Tampa Bay Next predecessor, Tampa Bay Express, which in-part called for 90 miles of toll lanes along interstates 4, 75 and 275. Many felt the project would be too destructive to the urban core and have a disproportionate impact on lower income and minority communities.
“What we’re looking for from FDOT is a good faith, intellectually honest discussion about alternatives to destroying the urban core in Tampa,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “And one of those alternatives that has been offered up by the community is [Frank’s] boulevard versus highway concept.”
Fernandez is especially critical of interstate expansion projects because he saw what it did to Tampa and cities across the nation when he was growing up.
“The decision-makers [back then] were routing interstates through cities, and just coincidentally, most of those routes happened to be through areas that the decision-makers considered blighted,” he said. “Blight in the 60s generally meant minority communities, and basically, they took out communities that did not have perhaps the political voice that those communities have today, and did it under the auspices of economic development for the city.”
Frank says he has met with FDOT twice regarding his boulevard proposal and that the conversations have been productive.
“It’s not so unreal that this could potentially happen,” said Frank. “There are a lot of cities across the country that are having this conversation or are implementing something like this.”
Frank will give his “Bifurcation to Boulevard” presentation Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Tampa Heights community center on 2005 N. Lamar Ave.