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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018
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Planners Vote To Wipe Brandon Bypass Off Map

TAMPA - The Brandon Bypass is bygone, at least for now. Activists trying to reform the county's growth management policies have been pressuring elected officials to remove the conceptual highway from all planning maps. Today, they saw their efforts succeed, as officials voted unanimously to take the penciled route that would sweep through southeastern Hillsborough off the Metropolitan Planning Organization's list of needed transportation improvements for 2025. Opponents of the roadway said it was the last long-range plan that carried the stamp of what they call "the green swath of death." The MPO board vote included a caveat that the need for some sort of corridor to draw traffic from clogged Interstates 75 and 4 should be professionally analyzed within the next 12 months.
"You take your life in your hands when you go south on I-75," said Mark Sharpe, a county commissioner and MPO member who made the motion to scrap the bypass as identified on current maps and start over with a needs assessment. "We have real legitimate issues that need to be addressed. ... I don't think we should step away from our responsibility, which is to have a mobility plan." The bypass has been part of the MPO's long-range plan since 2004. No agency has agreed to design or fund it. But hundreds of residents turned out to protest long-range county plans for new roads and bridges in south and east Hillsborough that were broached and hastily retracted this fall. The bypass was among proposals that drew the most fire. Opponents said the multilane highway would promote urban sprawl, slice through and undermine up to seven wilderness preserves and plow through established rural neighborhoods. "This swath is all wrong," said Mariella Smith of Ruskin, a member of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club. "The people who are pushing for this particular alignment are the people who would profit from this alignment." Others, including Vivian Bacca of Brandon, said the needs assessment that favored the bypass didn't take into account how the Internet and work-at-home jobs might affect travel needs. Still others said more attention should be paid to developing mass transit and expanding existing roadways. John Dingfelder, a Tampa city councilman on the MPO, said a highway is needed to shuttle traffic from I-4 in Polk County to Manatee and Sarasota and doesn't need to swing through Hillsborough at all. Kelly Cornelius, vice president of the nonprofit Rural Lithia Area Neighborhood Defense, said she hopes any study of transportation needs will include a good-faith consideration of alternatives to the bypass. "I'm thrilled it's come off [the planning maps], but I will remain vigilant as to what the future holds," she said.

Reporter Susan M. Green can be reached at (813) 865-1566 or [email protected]

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