Tampa City Council disses Beltway proposal by Mitch E. Perry

11/09/06

The Executive Director of the beleagured Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, Ralph Mervine, has resigned after being questioned about his link to a gay pornographic film production company in San Diego.

Mervine reportadley decided to resign after reporters at the Tampa Tribune asked about records listing him as owner of Coast Productions, which says on its web site has been producing erotic male videos since 1996.

Speaking in front of the Tampa City Council this morning, the Expressway Authority’s Planning Director, Martin Stone, denied that Mervine’s departure means that there is any problem with the Authority’s internal workings..And he said the move to replace Mervine was immediate (roll tape#1 o.q.�director�)

Mervine had been entangled in controversy when the Expressway authority voted to fire its legal counsel. The reaction to the firing ultimately led to investigations by the Governor’s office and the FBI.

It’s also led to criticism from Hillsborough County Commissioner Thomas Scott, who along with Tampa City Council member Gwen Miller, are the only locally elected officials on the 7 member board, with the other appointees selected by the Governor.

Scott recently suggested that more local officials be allowed on the board, a move that was seconded by City Councilman John Dingfelder (roll tape#2 o.q. “in a very strong way�)

Of great interest to the Tampa City Council has been the development of an East-West Road in New Tampa. The Expressway Authority’s Planning Director, Martin Stone said that 2 companies have currently put out bids to build the road. He says the Authority will evaluate and rank the companies bids by the end of this year, and figures that construction on the 3 mile toll road could begin by the end of next year.

The Council also had believed that Stone was also to deliver an update on the proposed Beltway, which has been met with a mostly icy response from Tampa City officials.

But Stone rankled the Council when he said he had been told NOT to speak about the Road (roll tape#3 o.q.�the beltway�)

Later City administrator Steve Dagnault told the Council that because Mayor Pam Iorio is so against the Beltway proposal, she didn’t think it was necessary for the Authority to discuss it in front of the City Council (roll tape#4 o.q.�I want to make that real clear�)

News of the proposed Beltway was announced in late July. The Roadway would begin in Manatee County, head through Eastern Hillsborough, bypassing Tampa then turn west into Pasco County. It’s considered among the most ambitious and costly road construction projects ever attempted in the region. But many public officials have been critical , saying it won’t solve the County’s traffic problems. Count Councilwoman Linda Saul Sena among them (roll tape#5 o.q.�that road creates�)

And Tampa City Councilwoman Rose Ferlita, in perhaps her last meeting before moving on to the Hillsborough County Commission after Tuesday’s election, said she had spoken on Wednesday with Mayor Iorio about transportation projeccts. Ferlita said she also had spoken with Congresswoman elect Kathy Castor about how she can work in Washington to help the Tampa Bay community work on transit projects…And she didn’t sound too positive about the beltway (roll tape#6 o.q.� and stuff�)

Next year, pair of local state lawmakers are proposing a law to create a Tampa Bay regional authority to work on transportation issues in the Tampa Bay Area.

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