Brandon bypass proposal runs out of gas

12/04/07 Seán Kinane
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Thanks to citizen input at a meeting this morning in Tampa, the Hillsborough board of the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPO) has removed the proposed Brandon bypass highway from consideration -- for now at least.

In June, the road was included on the MPO’s Highway Needs Assessment Map, which was based on the county’s needs for the year 2025. On the map, the bypass highway appears as a 2-mile wide corridor stretching from Interstate 75 south of Big Bend Road to southeast of Plant City. Much of it runs along the county’s urban service area border, creating speculation that developers would try to use the new road to expand the urban service area.

Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder is an MPO board member; he said that with the exception of Portland, Oregon, there is a pattern of increased urban sprawl after the construction of bypass roads.

“The way that it’s sucked right in to the edge of our existing sprawl, there’s no doubt -- and I’ve seen it in other communities, you see it out in Orlando and elsewhere – there’s no doubt that the minute you put in that road, then the next County Commission that comes along will expand the urban service area because it just makes sense. Because now you have a wonderful road that accommodates all that additional growth and then the urban service area will not exist and it will just keep going.”

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe made a motion to remove the Brandon bypass from the Highway Needs Assessment Map but he also wanted assurances that within the next 12 months there would be an analysis of regional north-south and east-west traffic corridors.

Some MPO board members, like County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, were concerned about how the Brandon bypass was added to the Highway Needs Assessment.

“You just don’t slap something out there and say, ‘OK, this is what it is, it won’t include any kind of a methodical process, it wasn’t thoughtful by design and people just didn’t trust what we were trying to present, so although we’re not denying the need for growth, it’s going to happen, but it has to be thoughtful placement. … If you have a bad plan you get it out of the way and you start again. Don’t continue to try to reconfigure and Band-aid it because what was there obviously were issues of lack of confidence and also bad placement so that sprawl was going to be encouraged.”

Nine members of the public spoke in favor of removing the highway from the MPO’s map.

Only Janet Kovak said the highway should remain on the map. Kovak, who was involved in several meetings to craft the plan, responded to the claims that the process was flawed.

“I can show you right here that you had people from planning and growth management, Lucy [Ayer, MPO Executive Director] you were there from the MPO, we had planning commission staff and we had FDOT at these meetings. And it was studied over and over again and it was by citizens and this is all available online. Anyone can access all the meeting minutes, all the documentation. And originally we did want a line on a map, but then MPO said it would be better to have a wider area to study before a line was put on a map.”

Sharpe’s to remove plans for the bypass highway from the map passed unanimously. WMNF asked Dingfelder for his reaction.

“From the MPO’s perspective, I think everybody looked at that and realized that this was a conduit for sprawl. I think as a community we’ve slowly begun to realize that sprawl is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing for Hillsborough County and Tampa and our community and the congestion is a direct result of sprawl. Hopefully, as a county we’re going in a different direction and that direction perhaps is mass transit and other multimodal uses. So I’m thrilled we pulled that off the map.”

Activist Mariella Smith applauded the move.

“I think we all agree that we need to continue looking at transportation and roads will be part of the picture, but we also need to do this in context of a larger plan that includes transit and rail and other forms of transportation along with good planning principles that will prevent sprawl, protect our natural resources and our communities and our agricultural land as we grow.”

In other action:

In October, the Tampa Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority (TBARTA) asked each of the five MPOs, in the region to contribute $10,000 to fund legal counsel through the end of the fiscal year. At today’s meeting, Hillsborough became the first MPO to approve this funding.

Learn more:

Hillsborough MPO

Highway Needs Assessment Map

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