Tolls Won’t Fix The Howard Franklin Issue
Editors’ note: The toll plan was canceled by FDOT after the posting of this column.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently ranked Tampa Bay dead last in median income among the nation’s 25 largest metro areas. Basically, it comes down to this: Many folks don’t have a lot of spare cash around here.
I mention this because the Florida Department of Transportation plans to replace the Howard Frankland Bridge, probably sometime early in the next decade. To help pay for this expensive project, DOT came up with an astonishingly dense plan: Keep the same number of lanes we have now, but turn one of them each way into an express toll lane. Commuters using that piece of pavement could expect to cha-ching up to $6 both coming and going.
Boiled down to its essence, it means drivers with more disposable income than most of us can get where they’re going faster while everyone else scoots closer together and hopes no one is texting while driving.
Yeah. That’s gonna help traffic congestion. Sure.
It’s going to stack cars up like cordwood on a bridge that is always one fender-bender away from gridlock, that’s what.
Local transportation planners who have bought in (so to speak) to this part of DOT’s “toll here, toll there, toll everywhere” plan say they were hoodwinked. They were under the impression the toll lanes would be in addition to the same number of regular lanes.
DOT said everyone should have known what was being planned and is shocked, awed, stunned and bamboozled that anyone would think otherwise.
“I’m truly baffled,” Debbie Hunt, DOT’s director of transportation development for the Tampa district, told the Tampa Bay Times.
DOT says tolls are a must because gas tax revenue used to help pay for these things has decreased because cars are more efficient. Isn’t that a kick in the tailpipe? For years we hear that conservation is our duty. When we comply the reward is turning the commute on one a heavily traveled artery into a Hobson’s choice.
Either pay the toll or take your chances in the bumper-car lanes with the rest of frugal humanity.
In fairness, I did find a 2012 story where a DOT official actually did tell the Times that tolls could be part of the plan to replace the bridge. And there was a public hearing about three years ago where toll lanes were discussed. They were a little vague, though, when it came to explaining that the replacement bridge would have the same number of lanes as the current bridge.
So how does this help?
DOT says it takes cars out of the other lanes, which will reduce congestion. But – listen closely, state officials – THE BRIDGE IS ALREADY FULL! Keeping the same number of lanes but reserving one for the platinum-card set is only going to make a bad situation worse.
In case planners haven’t noticed, a lot of people will be moving here in the next decade and beyond. Since many in the area hold mass transit in the same regard as the Zika virus, it means we’re going to have a lot more cars on the road.
And this is government’s solution.
This actually was predictable, though. Toll roads have expanded greatly throughout the state since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011.
He has strong Libertarian leanings and toll roads are straight from that party’s playbook. Hard-core Libertarians basically want a pay-as-you-go approach for almost all public services (fire, cops, and so on).
We started this column by noting that wages here have a long way to go, and unless that changes my guess is many drivers will only use the pay lane as a last resort.
And this helps alleviate a bad-and-getting-worse traffic problem in Tampa … how?