FDOT puts the brakes on toll lane on Howard Frankland

Aaron Mesmer reports

- The Florida Department of Transportation Monday put the brakes on a controversial plan on the Howard  Frankland Bridge that had frustrated drivers.

FDOT had initially planned a full tear-down and reconstruction of the bridge beginning with the northbound side in 2019, while turning an existing lane into an express-toll lane.

Sen. Jack Latvala, (R) Pinellas County, said he got involved when he recently heard about that plan.

"I wrote a letter to the Secretary of DOT saying, 'no way,'" Latvala told FOX 13. "I was dead-set against that. I called up there, told him I was serious about it."

Latvala received a letter from FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold on Monday, indicating the department was reversing course.

Boxold wrote FDOT would not convert the "auxiliary lane" -- which a spokesperson described as a lane that connects the on-ramp in Pinellas to the off-ramp in Hillsborough -- into an express-toll lane.

"They had told me a year or two ago that they would not put a toll on an existing lane and I held  them to it," Latvala said. "I think it's a win-win for the Tampa Bay area because I think that if  we...took the fourth lane on each side, put a toll on it, it would be an impediment to a unified economy in the Tampa Bay area."

Several drivers who spoke with FOX 13 were relieved to hear the FDOT's plans were changing.

"I think it's crazy. I think we have enough tolls," said Betsy Feran.

"I think adding a toll like that would just kind of add to the congestion. I'm always in traffic  here," added Jack Mangiafico.

FDOT has not ruled out adding a fifth lane during the reconstruction project and turning that into a toll lane.

"I think that would be a reasonable compromise," Mangiafico said. "You basically keep the same amount  of lanes. It kind of takes away from that congesiton issue that I was talking about and you still  have that source of revenue."

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