When City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor presented her $1.8-billion fiscal year 2022 budget to the Tampa City Council on August 5, it did not include any money for one of Council member Luis Viera’s sought-after projects — the repaving of Tampa Palms Blvd.
Viera, who represents District 7 (which includes most of North Tampa and all of incorporated New Tampa), was crestfallen. But, while he understood some of the budget constraints, he didn’t give up hope.
With the urging of community activists and Tampa Palms residents — many of them the same folks who fought for the funding for the New Tampa Recreation Center (NTRC) a few years ago — as well as plenty of Viera’s own door pounding, Mayor Castor announced on August 24 that an additional $3.3 million would be added to the budget to repave and rejuvenate Tampa Palms Blvd.’s south loop.
“That is a really, really, really big thing,” Viera says. “It’s a big win for our area.”
For the south loop, or segment 1, the price tag is $2.3 million. The north loop, which runs from Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. to Ebensburg Dr., will cost is $1 million.
The final public meeting on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, September 28.
Money for the Tampa Palms Blvd. repaving was originally expected to come from the $500 million raised via the All for Transportation one-cent surtax. However, the penny surtax was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court in February, ironically a day after Viera met with Tampa Palms residents at a town hall.
“I promised the residents that night that if the penny sales tax failed that I would fight really hard for it in this year’s budget,” Viera said. “Flipping it into the budget when it wasn’t originally there was a big ask.”
Viera pushed for the money, with an assist from local activists — who made phone calls and sent emails to Mayor Castor.
One Tampa Palms resident, Mike Marlowe, wrote to Castor on Aug. 21 that his community had been promised repaving of the road “which now looks like a quilt instead of a roadway” — last year. He added that in 22 years of living in New Tampa, he has “never seen the road this bad.”
A week later, Brandie Miklus, the city’s infrastructure and mobility program coordinator, responded to Marlowe with the good news — that the city’s mobility department was moving forward with resurfacing plans.
In her address to the City Council, Castor seemed determined not to let the Florida Supreme Court decision freeze her efforts to improve the city’s infrastructure needs.
“I won’t sugar coat how big a blow it was to lose the All for Transportation money that was so overwhelmingly supported by our constituents,” Mayor Castor said. “I will provide a path to forge ahead on our own, one that includes a citywide mobility plan.”
Castor’s budget includes $22 million for road safety and maintenance. “We’ve all heard the calls from our community to make our streets, sidewalks and trails safe and to improve our road maintenance,” she said.
A refreshed Tampa Palms Blvd., which Viera says is presently “a failed road,” is currently in the design phase (the money for which was in last year’s budget), with actual construction occurring in two phases and expected to begin within the next year.
According to Miklus, it will include resurfacing, multimodal and safety improvements, traffic calming, enhanced crosswalks with Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) and separated bicycle lanes.
After years of complaints about being ignored by the City of Tampa, this could be a year in which New Tampa’s cup runneth over, as a number of New Tampa projects are in the city’s plans to receive money. In fact, after the first public hearing on Sept. 13, Viera was pleased enough to say this year’s budget could be the best for New Tampa in recent memory, if not ever.
The budget has $1.67 million scheduled for the long-awaitd inclusive playground, which will have play elements, wheelchair access and autism-friendly features, to be built near the New Tampa Recreation Center (NTRC).
The FY 2022 budget also includes $650,000 to begin the planning and design of Tampa Fire Rescue Station No. 24, which will be located in the K-Bar Ranch area. Another $11.5 million is expected to be allocated in the FY 2023 budget for construction of what would be New Tampa’s fifth fire station.
Until then, Viera says he also is working on the construction of a possible road off Morris Bridge Rd. that would allow for quicker access into K-Bar Ranch to help reduce some of the response times of the two fire stations on Cross Creek Blvd., both of which rank among the slowest in the entire Tampa Bay area.
Viera also said the budget includes $50,000 to design New Tampa Blvd.’s future renovation ($50,000), hopefully leading to its repaving in the next year or two. Like Tampa Palms Blvd., New Tampa Blvd. was initially slated for improvements using All For Transportation money.
As backers of the NTRC know, just because the money is in the budget for a project doesn’t mean it can’t be moved or taken out.
The budget has to be approved by Friday, October 1.