Tampa City Councilman bothered by I-4 connector project delay

01/07/09 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday

The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization today passed a plan for road improvements that will be funded in part by the the Florida Department of Transportation over the next five years.

But Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder initially expressed unhappiness with the plan, because it will delay construction of a long-awaited link between the Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway for three more years.

The connector will be a mile-long series of elevated bridges, and will include a trucks-only ramp that will direct large tankers and trucks directly from I-4 to the Port of Tampa, keeping them off 21st and 22nd streets in the heart of Ybor City.

Joseph Waggoner, executive director of the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, said the delay from 2010 to 2013 is because of financial cutbacks with the state’s Transportation Department (FDOT), but he hopes a new federal stimulus bill could provide funding to speed up the project.

Don Skelton with FDOT said budget cuts in Tallahassee have made funding the I-4 Connector plan unfeasible for next year.

That led Dingfelder to say he couldn’t support approving the plan. He said that the lack of communications with the public was a deal breaker for him.

But Skelton said there were two public hearings in December regarding the five-year plan, though he admitted they weren’t that well attended.

By law, the MPO needed to vote on the plan or list their objections by Jan. 20.

After fellow City Councilmember Mary Mulhern also said she would vote against the plan, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said that even though it wasn’t required that the MPO give its consent on the time schedule for the projects, it would set a bad example when there is a chance that federal funding could make it viable for construction closer to 2010.

Dingfelder then said he would support the plan, but with an amendment attached that the FDOT do whatever is possible to try to get funding as soon as they can for the project, estimated a year ago to cost more than $700 million.

Once completed, the connector will collect tolls, though that cost has yet to be determined.

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