The future of the Tampa Bay Express (TBX) is set to be decided upon at the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization this Wednesday.
The MPO will vote whether to include or not include TBX as part of its Transportation Improvement Program.
Since the project, which would widen I-275 by adding toll lanes to reduce traffic time and congestion, was announced, there has been strong opposition and support toward it.
Michael Case, senior case planner for the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority, said Wednesday’s vote is critical for moving the project forward.
“That will kind of determine whether or not the project is able to move forward being that Hillsborough County kind of has the largest stake here in the project,” he said. “So that's really a pivotal decision as we see it for the future of transit in our region.”
If funded, the Florida Department of Transportation would begin the five-year construction immediately.
Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of TBARTA, said one of the pros to the project is the amount of jobs it would create.
“You're talking about thousands and thousands of jobs that to me in this debate has hardly has been talked about,” he said. “You're talking about six years of construction on what probably would be the largest construction project in Tampa Bay's history as far as money goes.”
However, not everyone agrees with the benefits of TBX. In fact, some see them as cons.
Michelle Cookson is a secretary with Sunshine Citizens. Sunshine Citizens is a part of the StopTBX Coalition, an organization that states the construction of TBX will lead to the destruction of Tampa neighborhoods.
“It has a devastating impact to Tampa Heights and Ybor City and downtown, and northern downtown,” she said. “Hundreds of businesses and homes will be removed.”
Chiaramonte challenges this, by sharing his personal story of moving to widen roads. His parents had built their house after World War II in Riverview, but had to tear it down when the city widened Highway 301.
“They didn't really have a choice, they weren't happy but they did understand that things have to progress, things change sometimes and that's just life,” he said.
Though the public can’t vote on the issue, Cookson encourages them to come out so they can speak their mind.
“We can do better. We can do better, we should do better and we will,” she said. “So we are going to go into this meeting on the twenty-second as our only means to speak out to the public and weigh in on this project.”
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on June 22 at the Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa.