Hillsborough Commissioners hear about beltway proposal by Mitch E. Perry


Today the Hillsborough County Commission listened to and gave its first declared vote of support for a a proposal to build a beltway system that would connect Pinellas, Pasco, eastern Hillsborough and Manatee Counties and be up and running in 9 years.

The idea comes from the Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, and would begin at the junction of I-75 and 275 in Northern Manatee…..It would run East and then North, between Brandon and Plant City, at some point intersecting Brandon and Plant City….

It would then turn west to the Suncoast Parkway in Pasco, south on the parkway to I-275, over the Sunshine Skyway and back to I-75.

All told, the loop would run about 120 miles, with 70 to 80 miles of it being new construction.

Ralph Mervine is Executive Director of the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority. He began his spiel by acknowledging that building new roads will not address the growing transportation problems in the Tampa Bay Authority (roll tape#1 o.q.� not going to solve all our problems�)

St Petersburg State Senator Jim Sebesta, is the outgoing Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He spoke out in support of the plan, and said that it’s undeniable that Hillsborough County will continue to grow over the next decade, and quoted an old television commercial about what the Commission should do (roll tape#2 “pay me later�)

The project costs for the project are not yet known, but are rumored to be in the billions…Commissioner Ronda Storms had many questions to ask Expressway officials about the project, in particular where the roads would be constructed in Eastern Hillsborough County

The only dissent from the board on this preliminary vote came from Commissioner Kathy Castor, who said the County needs to start building a mass transit system. She said that projections indicate that employment and population growth in parts of the Tampa aren’t fulfilled under this proposed beltway system (roll tape#3o.q.�growth patterns�)

And Castor agreed with Senator Sebesta that the County will continue to grow, but said how the County designs its future transportation systems will dictate in part where that growth concentrates (roll tape#3 o.q.�they’re going to grow�)

The debate then became focused on mass transportation – and not surprisingly, most of the Commissioner do NOT support such an idea.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe (roll tape#4 o.q.�right away�)

News of a proposed beltway did not surface until last week….Commission Chairman Jim Norman WAS aware of the project, and is an unabashed enthusiast for it…He asked rhetorically what was wrong about where the roads would be built in Hillsborough County (roll tape#5 o.q.� I believe helps that�)

Commissioner Tom Scott cautioned all participating in the meeting that today’s discussion and vote was just the first step in a long process to come (roll tape#6 o.q.� To the next step�)

The Commissioners voted 6-1 to keep the process running,

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