TAMPA, Fla (WFLA) – For more than six hours Tuesday night, a hot-button issue was debated in downtown Tampa at the Hillsborough County Commission building.
The topic? A controversial one. The people it would affect? Nearly everyone.
There were so many people, in fact, attending this meeting, it was standing room only in the second floor commission room. The overflow crowd included lines of people on the first floor, listening to the proceedings via loud speaker in the lobby.
The crowd didn’t agree on much, but one thing was clear.
Everyone had an opinion on the possibility of future expansion in an area of Hillsborough County where Interstate 275 and Interstate 4 meet, also known as ‘Malfunction Junction.’
This section of Tampa roadways is known for its epic traffic troubles, where back-ups are common, accidents are often and patience runs thin.
So, what should be done? How do you fix it? Does ‘Malfunction Junction’ need a massive makeover?
Depends on whom you ask.
Talk to drivers, and you’ll most likely get an overwhelming yes. Folks who travel this section of Hillsborough County say it’s a nightmare, one that needs help. Badly.
On Tuesday night, ideas on how to fix this epic problem were discussed at length during a meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization in Hillsborough County.
That’s where the differences of opinion were highlighted and dissected, person by person. Those in attendance talked about what it’s like to travel through these roads as a commuter, as a resident living nearby and as those who represent businesses in the area.
The concerns ran the gamut regarding a solution and the difficulty of putting a plan into action.
Some described it as David versus Goliath. Others compared the interests of those involved as a battle between community and convenience. Then, there were frustrated residents, both fed up and fired up, who called this a never-ending fight between progress and personal property.
Whatever your opinion may be regarding the project – good or bad, greed or growth – one thing was obvious by meeting’s end. It’s not a matter of if or when change is coming, it’s on its way. Now.
When the commission called for a decision on the issue, the vote was yes, although not a unanimous one.
If you build it, they will come. That’s according to FDOT’s David Gwynn who told News Channel 8, “We’re growing, we’re going to continue to grow.”
In addition, he said progress comes with a price. You’ve got to make room for growth, he told us. “The money we’re proposing to use is going to be used for interstate widening somewhere in Florida, it doesn’t have to come to Tampa, it could go somewhere else. We want it to come to Tampa.”
But, for some, that theory doesn’t sit well. At all.
Many residents maintain this theory. More doesn’t always mean better, sometimes it just means more, and in this case, they say, that isn’t good.
Tampa resident, Rick Fernandez, told the commission his thoughts on the matter prior to the vote.
“Let’s leave Tampa better than we found it. Doubling down on infrastructure is not the path,” Fernandez told commissioners. “Yet again, we’re in your hands.”
There are many facets to the project, but the one of particular interest to both commuters and nearby residents is the addition of two lanes to Interstate 275, one in each direction.
According to FDOT, the expansion work, including planning, would begin in 2022.