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Tampa Bay Commutes May Get Shorter - And More Expensive

Express Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay interstates may be getting express toll lanes, but drivers won't see the changes anytime soon.

The plan, called Tampa Bay Express, is in its beginning phase, so it may take almost a decade before drivers see the final product.

To cut down on drive times, current interstates would have additional middle lanes that would require drivers to use a SunPass. These express lanes would alleviate some traffic on the regular highways by offering a faster option to drivers willing to pay the toll.

The price of the toll would fluctuate depending on the time of day. During peak times the toll will be higher, and during off-peak times it will be lower.

"It's really a win-win because those that do get out of the general use lanes and hop over into the express lanes, it frees up congestion levels in the general lanes as well," said Kris Carson, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation.

The purpose of creating these toll lanes is to give drivers the option of a faster commute, avoiding traffic congestion and long waits. There would also be a set speed limit meant to keep traffic moving in these lanes, and large trucks would not be allowed.

The FDOT may also work with various transit agencies to develop plans to offer express bus services.

According to the Tampa Bay Express website, the express buses would be equipped with internet access and comfortable seating for longer trips. During the week, express buses would pick riders up every 10 to 30 minutes during peak commute times, and every 30 to 60 minutes during non-peak commute times, as well as offering evening and limited weekend services.

"The next step after is really finding the funding, you know working with the federal government, seeing if there's funding. And then also, continuing along with our studies," said Carson.

"This is, as I keep mentioning, it's just a very early phase, so we'll have to see what is the first interstate that could go under construction or is there a private group to come in."

FDOT will hold two community workshops to hear the public's opinions on the proposal.

The first meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 27th from 5 to 7 p.m. at Minnreg Hall, 6340 126th Avenue North in Largo. The second is on Thursday, Jan. 29th from 5 to 7 p.m. at TPepin's Hospitality Center, 4121 North 50th Street, in Tampa.

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