Several hundred people showed up Wednesday night at the first of many planned public meetings to discuss revamping the Tampa Bay area's transportation system. It's a reboot of TBX - Tampa Bay Express - which would have added more than 90 miles of toll lanes to existing free Interstate highways.
It's now called Tampa Bay Next.
Kris Carson of the state Department of Transportation says they took public opposition to the toll lanes to heart. Twenty community discussion breakout groups gathered at the Bryan Glazer JCC in Tampa to tell DOT officials what they'd like to see.
"The community wanted us to have more public involvement, and they wanted to bring solutions to us. And that's exactly what we're doing here tonight," she said as the meeting began. "We started out with a large group, we have breakout sessions now. We want them to brainstorm, give us their ideas. And then we're going to come back together as a group and discuss them."
She says these public meetings will focus not only on toll lanes.
" I think it's going to come down to options," she said. "There's got to be transit options, there possibly needs to be some express lanes, more bus options. We're going to look at all of it. We've decided with the community that we're going to step back two years and we're going to work with them. We promise them more public involvement; we're redoing the environmental analysis. It's giving them what they've asked for."
A lot of opposition from rebounding neighborhoods near downtown Tampa that would have been impacted by construction of toll lanes helped persuade transportation officials to take another look at the plan.
Jim Zampitella, president of the downtown Tampa River Arts Neighborhood Association, says he's trying to keep an open mind. But his opposition to TBX hasn't tempered his opinion of what Tampa Bay Next could mean.
"Well, they've removed certain parts of the project," he said. "But the pieces that we're passionate about is the right-of-way grab. The huge amounts of land that they need to expand this highway at a time when those areas are growing and prospering. It's not the right thing to do."
Zampitella says any expansion of I-275 couldn't come at a worse time for several Tampa neighborhoods.
"The tolling is one thing," he said. "But it's more the neighborhoods it's going to destroy - a hundred homes, 30 businesses, at a time when those homes and those businesses and those neighborhoods are thriving - downtown Tampa, Seminole Heights, V.M. Ybor. So it's just too destructive for me."
Carson said Wednesday night's meeting is only the first in a series of get-togethers that could take two years.