TAMPA,FL (WFLA) – The Florida DOT wants to spend $3 billion rebuilding the downtown interchange sometimes called “Malfunction Junction” and adding express toll lanes to surrounding interstates. The work could begin in 3-5 years. Planners hope it will become the ultimate fix for Tampa traffic snarls.
“That is a lot of money but if you drive our interstate system you know we have a lot of issues and a lot of congestion,” said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.” We want to go in there one time and fix it and not have to come back there for a life time.” Carson insists the $81 million dollar re-do of the downtown interchange finished nine years ago was only a “band aid” and was never intended as a permanent fix. “Quite frankly we didn’t have all of the money to rebuild it to the ultimate construction so we have to re-do it again,” Carson said.
The DOT plan also calls for expansion of I-275 and I-4 to include express toll lanes. Critics call them “Lexus lanes” catering to the rich. But experts at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF say that concept is already in use in South Florida where all kind of motorists take advantage of the express option. “It can be a working couple the needs to pick up a child,” said Steve Polzin, the Center’s Director of Mobility Policy Research. “It can be somebody that’s got a critical appointment they need to get to on time.” Polzin insists the system helps even motorists who don’t pay for the express tolls. “You’re taking them off the other lanes so everybody is benefiting,’ said Polzin.
Right now the $3 billion DOT plan only exists in drawings and plans and doesn’t have funding. “We don’t have the money right now,” said Carson. But the DOT seems confident the money will come when needed and insists it is important to begin moving forward now. DOT meetings to gather public input will begin in the Fall. “We want to get public input, that’s the whole point of going early even before we have funding in place,” said Carson. For a sneak peak at what the state has in mind you can go online now and see for yourself.