Hillsborough County officials approve Tampa Bay Express project

- The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization has approved the Tampa Bay Express project in a 12 to 4 vote. The decision came after 8-hour meeting that ended at 2 a.m. Thursday.

More than 180 people signed up to speak for or against TBX. The meeting began at 6 p.m. Wednesday. At three minutes per person, public comment wasn't expected to end until 2:30 a.m. However, not everyone who signed up spoke.

This is the culmination of months of hearings, protests and discussions. The attendance was so large that chairs had to be set up in the lobby near TV monitors.

TBX is a $6 billion project that would add 90 miles of toll lanes to interstates 75, 275 and 4.

Those for it, wearing their TBXyes stickers, said this project is crucial for the area's future. They say it's critical for Tampa to keep up with larger cities and its growing population. Supporters say it'll cut down on congestion, frustration and drive times.

"If we reject TBX, our tax dollars will be spent by someone else, somewhere else in Florida," said Ken Roberts.

"We are going to find ourselves with a lot more people, a lot more congestion and probably more frustration if we don't do something to alleviate it," said Eric Larson.

Those against it, and they were in the majority, don't want to lose more than 100 historic buildings and homes to make way for the expansion. They don't want people in communities like Seminole Heights to be displaced.

They say the answer is better transportation options, not pricey toll lanes that won't get a enough use and a project ased on data from 20 years ago.

"20 years ago, people were doing the Macarena and were excited about Windows 95. It was a very bad time," Doug Jessup said.

"This is not an economic plan," said Mit Patel. "This is about 87 miles of toll roads. Let's not confuse this as an economic plan."

Even though the Metropolitan Planning Organization approved TBX Thursday morning, it's not set in stone. The board will have to approve the Transportation Improvement Program every year. That means TBX funding could be cut in the future.

There is some financial pressure on the Metropolitan Planning Organization. $3.3 billion in federal funding is at stake. If the plan falls through, it'll go to another city like Jacksonville, Miami or Orlando.

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