in-tampa-heights,-the-conversation-targets-community,-not-commuters

In Tampa Heights, The Conversation Targets Community, Not Commuters

TAMPA — It was billed as a community conversation with state transportation planners sitting at round tables with 38 residents of Tampa Heights in a half-dozen rooms.

There was no sharing of food, just ideas.

The state talked about plans for the ongoing and future expansion of Interstates 275 and I-4 with the people already aggravated about the implications for their neighborhood — a destroyed historic house and a barrier wall moving closer to the area’s eastern edge. That’s not even mentioning the inconveniences of more noise and grime.

There was no open hostility, at least not in the session observed by a Tampa Bay Times reporter, but early on, one woman summed up the neighbors’ sentiments.

“I think it’s fair to say the residents have a level of mistrust,” said Lindsay Seel, 36.

Later, residents took to social media to complain about the meeting format of individual small groups instead of one large town-hall-like gathering.

The state “has put Tampa Heights in isolation wards for the community conversation to ‘reduce noise,’ ” Rick Fernandez, a vocal critic of the Florida Department of Transportation, wrote on Facebook.

By the close of the nearly two-hour session Tuesday night at the Hillsborough Bar Association Chester H. Ferguson Law Center on Tampa Street, residents had detailed their thoughts on safety, barrier walls, landscaping and public spaces so the street view of the highway would be more aesthetically pleasing and, perhaps, more engaging to Tampa Heights residents.

Work began in October on the widening of I-275, from near the Interstate 4 interchange north to Hillsborough Avenue. It’s a 2.5-mile corridor and the $85.3 million project is expected to be completed in early 2026. In a separate, but related effort, the state is scheduled to start construction next year on a $140 million project to add lanes and move an exit on the traffic-choked downtown connection between the two highways that is known commonly, and derisively as malfunction junction.

The interchange bifurcates the historic Tampa Heights neighborhood from downtown Tampa, and residents encouraged the state to enhance the viaducts and ground areas below it for pedestrians and bicyclists. They want public art, an expanded greenway and other accoutrements.

“We need more art instead of a blank wall or some ivy that’s going to die in a few years,” said Justin Ricke, 45.

He suggested using the areas beneath the overpasses for public activities — maybe even adding a tennis court or a dog park — instead of street-level parking lots.

“The less I see of cars, the better it is,” he said.

The session Tuesday was the second in a series. An earlier meeting in East Tampa drew about 45 participants. The final session, to be held virtually, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 3. Go to tampabaynext.com to register.

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