Kossacks, I'm going to get straight to the point.
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Anyone who lives in Florida, or who reads SemDem's great diaries on Florida, knows that this state and its people are under assault by its own government, led by climate change denier and corporate do-boy, GOP Governor pRick Scott.
What I'm here to ask for your help with is a particularly malodorous agenda of Gov Skeletor, and that is his agenda to inflict every urban interstate in Florida with 'variable rate toll lanes'. These toll lanes are already spreading in Miami, and are being constructed in Orlando. Now, Tampa has been targeted for the worst incarnation of 'Lexus Lanes' yet.
As folks in other states like VA, WI, TX, GA, NC and others can attest, this is part of a national agenda by the special interests to keep working Americans stuck behind the wheel of a car whether they can afford it or not, and taxpayers on the hook to secure debt obligations and P3 contracts behind these toll lane schemes for decades to come.
Here in the Tampa Bay area, this comes in the form of a project FDOT calls Tampa Bay Express, aka 'TBX'. Follow me below the fold for a rundown on why this project is particularly harmful for our area, and potentially yours too, if the special interest's toll lanes agenda succeeds here.
These are the lanes in Miami that FDOT tries to tell us up here in Tampa are 'adored by Miami area drivers'.
First a primer on different basic kinds of express lanes...
HOV - High Occupancy Vehicle lanes - Non-tolled. Only carpools carrying 2-3 or more people can use the lanes. Waivers are also given to transit buses, motorcycles, hybrids, EVs and ILEVs (low emissions). The purpose of this lane is basically to encourage higher throughput with less pollution and fuel use.
HOT - High Occupancy Toll lanes - An HOV lane that single-occupant vehicles are allowed to enter if they pay a toll. Idea is to get maximum use out of these lanes, by allowing SOVs to fill in excess capacity for a price. Most lanes of this type in operation use variable rate tolling aka 'congestion pricing' to discourage too many SOVs from entering the lanes and clogging them during the rushes.
But here in the Tampa Bay area, we are being targeted for a new toll lane scheme invented right here in Tampa by a partnership between our own local expressway authority and our local university's transportation center, all under the strict guidance of a pRick Scott controlled FDOT. And all with the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) blessing, money and a special waiver to break federal rules of course.
They call it a 'BTL' or Bus Toll Lane.
It's basically exactly like a HOT lane, except you throw out all of the carpools, hybrids, EVs and ILEVs. Oh and you also have to throw out the urban commuters and urban buses too, because these lanes also have a special feature called 'restricted access' (no way in or out of the lanes throughout most urban areas, with access largely limited to outlying suburbs). This leaves the lanes virtually useless for urban commuting and bus trips. The buses that do run are costly 'premium' suburban commuter buses that relatively few will utilize. The 'bus' part is quite literally window dressing to get federal approval. Here in Tampa, FDOT's even trying to weasel out of the buses by shifting their cost to the local transit agency, not from toll revenues. Instead of the purpose of the lanes being to encourage more people with less pollution in the corridor, the purpose is to turn a public asset, our interstates, into a money making machine by literally forcing drivers to 'choose' between rotting in congested 'free' lanes which will never be augmented again once the toll lanes are built, or to pay up to $2 every mile to use the toll lanes to bypass it. Which is a real problem, since construction is so expensive, the toll lanes would have to be financed to the hilt, and would likely never even pay back the original construction costs.
This Tampa Bay Express project proposed for Tampa is basically what you would get if you got climate change deniers, the suburban industrial complex and the Reason Foundation together, and let them build their fantasy version of our interstates. Maybe instead of Lexus Lanes, we should call them Koch Lanes?
Once they get these BTLs built on your local expressways, they'll never build another road that isn't built to make you choose between a miserable commute, or a dramatically more expensive commute, ever again. In fact, our illustrious governor here in Florida has already made it statewide policy!
This is what we're facing right now, and you could be next.
87 miles worth for now, and they've got long range plans for many more.
• They will not let us vote, they are trying to impose this without any meaningful public input. They are literally using the paperwork left over from an old unbuilt project in the 90s, and claim the planning and outreach from two decades ago is still relevant today!
• $9+ billion construction cost equates to $18,000 per household!
• Annual toll bill for a typical regular user is expected to be $1500+ per year, with tolls expected to double every ten years. (though down in Miami, the average toll doubled in just 5)
• Tolls will NOT cover the cost of construction. They are intended to cover ongoing O&M and (supposedly) longterm replacement.
• Added capacity from toll lanes only carries a small fraction of total daily traffic. The first segment of these lanes already under construction locally on the Veterans Expressway, will consume 25% of roadway capacity (2 out of 8 lanes), while FDOT themselves says just 5% of commuters will be able to afford the tolls, leaving everyone else with a more congested commute.
• Will take up to 15 years of disruption, and destruction to build, eroding property values, commerce and tax revenues, while putting a chill on new developments.
• Two-phased project will repeatedly harm low income and ethnic neighborhoods which are finally beginning to recover from the original interstate construction, and then another 10+ years of non-stop construction still occurring today on the same stretch of highway. That's right, they want to mess with hundreds of millions worth of highway so new, it's not even paid off yet, leading to a generation's worth of disruption, followed by another generation's worth of debt.
• Lost taxable value from eroded quality of life and destroyed property estimated to be between $500 million and $1 billion for Tampa alone.
• Widening will erect an elevated highway up to 18 lanes and 430' wide through 3 historic districts, destroying up to 150 more homes and businesses, on top of many more they already destroyed for past expansions.
•The destruction includes a historic church that volunteers with the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association have spent years restoring to use as a community center, only after FDOT told them they had at least 20 years before the nearby highway would be widened, if ever.
They are trying to force these costly toll lanes through our community, in spite of the Tampa Bay area having:
• The lowest per capita income of the nation's major metros.
• One of the worst transportation cost-to-income ratios in the nation, where residents can least afford to see their transportation costs rise any further.
• One of the longest average commutes in the nation, where fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are already a major concern.
• Recently completed community plan determined that 'walkable places' was #1 priority, while 'tolled express lanes' were ranked dead last.
• The least developed mass transit infrastructure of all of the nation's major metros. Tampa is the 18th most populous metro, but studies consistently rank it dead last of all major metros and often behind many smaller ones too.
• Have an ongoing process called GO Hillsborough to address that transit deficiency, which TBX totally contravenes.
Those last points are vital. Everywhere else the feds have let these high cost luxury lanes be built, they have made sure that there is some sort of usable urban mass transit in the corridor, for those who can't afford the high cost of tolls. They have offered no such solution here, because the way they wrote up this "Bus Toll Lane" waiver, they don't have to anymore.
This will put the screws to any resident who can't afford the tolls, doesn't have access to the buses only accessible to some suburban residents, and can't afford to move closer to work. FDOT and their lobbyist masters simply don't care. Their pals want the contracts to build this monstrosity, and ultimately, to finance much of its construction.
FDOT is fighting tooth and nail to force these toll lanes onto our community, but we're certain that when we have the resources to fight back and get the word out, we will turn the tide and win not just the battle, but the war. People on both sides of the ideological spectrum in our area loathe these things with a passion, and we have successfully fought off numerous highway expansion in the past. We simply need more resources to get the word out and apply political pressure to implicated elected officials.
We have already made great progress with little more than grit and determination. We started our advocacy group, Sunshine Citizens in late June as a non-profit, and at our local MPO's board meeting to approve TBX on August 4th, we turned out an all-time record crowd for an MPO meeting with 425 participants.
This is part of the overflow crowd in the building's lobby, many more were upstairs where the actual meeting was held.
Not even ONE resident was there to speak in favor of the project. The only support for putting toll lanes on our interstates came from 8 representatives there to assert corporate interests.
We succeeded in convincing our MPO to attach conditions to the project that FDOT has to meet by May 2016, else the MPO vowed to kill the project. Now we need to press our advantage, and overwhelm them with the sheer number in opposition.
This is where we NEED your help!
We have partnered with the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association for this funding drive, and we are pursuing a dual strategy, where we are going to raise awareness to apply political pressure, while they pursue an administrative/legal strategy to save the community center from destruction. We have built a sizable following, and we have found various paths of pursuit. We simply need the resources to pursue them.
We also have the active support of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Sierra Club, as well as several local transit and urban advocacy groups. The city council for Tampa is also generally supportive of our mission, and is on the record against this project.
More about us:
I am the VP of Sunshine Citizens. I became involved, because I am co-founder of an informal urban advocacy group called URBN Tampa Bay', which helps inform followers about upcoming developments in Tampa's urban neighborhoods, then we support the good ones and oppose the bad ones. The group also advocates for more urbane and walkable neighborhoods throughout the area. We initially took up the mantle of outreach against TBX earlier this summer, until Sunshine Citizens was up and running as a broader coalition. Roads/infrastructure in general is an important issue to me personally, both because of my varied professional background in design and construction of large scale projects, as well as my personal experience with a serious car wreck 15 years ago. That incident left me with permanently limited physical ability. (mind you, I'm not paralyzed or anything like that) I lost several years to disability, had multiple surgeries, and need a few more. I had major issues with it again last fall, leaving me unable to work at a productive pace ever since. (my writing hand has neuropathy, so it's often difficult to write legibly, and I can usually only type with one finger on that hand, so I wind up making frequent mistypes. It literally took me like half a work day to write and edit this) So long as I'm unable to work in a way that holds a steady job, I do what I can to recover, and help make our transportation system better and safer for everyone, especially those who can't or don't want to drive. When I can't make it to a meeting, at least they don't fire me!
The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association is presided over by local community leader and activist, Lena Young-Green.
Some Kossacks may recognize her name for another, far more tragic reason. Her husband, Arthur Green Jr, passed away last year during a traffic stop involving Tampa Police. He was having a diabetic episode, which they initially mistook as 'resistance'...
Officers responding to calls of an erratic driver suspected he could be suffering a medical episode, a police spokeswoman said Thursday, but briefly put him in handcuffs anyway because he was resistant.
The driver, Arthur Green Jr., 63, of Tampa was uncuffed when he stopped breathing after the Wednesday incident and later died at St. Joseph Hospital. According to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office, he suffered from an extremely low blood-sugar level and his pulse stopped while being detained by police.
Green was the husband of prominent Tampa Heights community leader Lena Young-Green, whose son, Owen Young, is the principal of Middleton High School.
Galvanized by this tragedy, a widowed Mrs Young-Green led an effort to lobby the Florida legislature, and convinced them to approve legislation which requires training of Florida police officers to prevent such a tragedy again, by a nearly unanimous vote.
Today, she strives to complete the historic church's transition to a needed community center, without her husband by her side. Her strength and guidance through such an ordeal inspires us all. We hope it will inspire you today.
We have many more voices in our coalition, and we all have our stories to tell. (Click here to see videos of our community's testimony to the MPO)
We are determined to ensure that the story of 'Tampa Bay Express' concludes with a happy ending not just for us, but for everyone who doesn't want to see their communities forced down this same path where their taxes are spent on some lobbyist's fantasy, while history is bulldozed and commuters receive a life sentence to rot in traffic or pay through the nose.
Please help us spread the word and donate if you can. Together, we can #StopTBX and put a big dent in Governor Skeletor's and the special interest's agenda.
Florida is the lion's den of the toll road lobby. When we defeat them here, it will send a message that will be heard throughout the nation.
Please click here to donate now!
And sign our petition!
Check out our website: http://stoptbx.sunshinecitizens.org/
And our FB page: http://www.facebook.com/...
Thank you so much Kossacks!