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Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers transportation, breaking news and features in Hillsborough County. She is a graduate of Indiana University, with her master's from the University of Maryland.

She's always looking for story ideas.

Phone: (813) 226-3401

E-mail: cjohnston@tampabay.com

Twitter: @cljohnst

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  1. Small fix on Temple Terrace bike lane heralds big effort to stop traffic deaths

    Transportation

    TEMPLE TERRACE

    Several dozen volunteers gathered Tuesday morning along Bullard Parkway Bridge in Temple Terrace for an experiment in safety.

    Last year, 12 people died while riding their bikes in Hillsborough County. How many lives, the volunteers wanted to know, could they save with some cans of spray paint?

    They shook their cans, the little ball inside rattling, and slowly covered a worn and cracked bike lane with neon green paint....

    Josephine Winiarz, left, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp help make a bike lane along Temple Terrace’s Bullard Parkway Bridge easier to see Tuesday as part of the Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic deaths.
  2. Long-awaited Tampa Bay transit study identifies five corridors for future transportation systems

    Mass Transit

    The firm assembling a highly anticipated study has identified five potential routes for a future transit system in Tampa Bay.

    This is the first big update in the regional premium transit feasibility plan, a cumbersome term for a process that will identify whether rail, express bus or other types of transit will best serve the region.

    A team from Jacobs Engineering expects to narrow that list and recommend three specific projects — including the exact routes and the type of transit that will operate on them — by November, said Jacobs executive Scott Pringle....

    A team from Jacobs Engineering assembling a highly anticipated study has identified five potential routes for a future transit system in Tampa Bay. It identified five corridors that could one day be served by future transit systems. [Times file photo]
  3. Coming soon to the area around the University of South Florida: new Teslas to ferry people to and from bus stops

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Starting Monday, people who live and work around the University of South Florida will be able to summon a sleek Tesla to take them to and from a bus stop.

    If that doesn't seem futuristic enough, consider this: The electric vehicles are already equipped with self-driving hardware, and transit officials hope the fleet will soon be driverless.

    The project is part of HyperLink — the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority's solution to getting people to and from bus stops for $3 a trip so they don't have to walk 45 minutes in the Florida heat or pay for an Uber. HyperLink started in Carrollwood, Brandon and the University Area six months ago, but Monday's unveiling of four Teslas operating around USF is a development HART officials hope will place the transit agency ahead of its peers nationwide....

    Cesar Hernandez, of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, emerges from a Tesla Model X electric vehicle on Tuesday. HART is leasing four Teslas for its HyperLink program in the University Area of Tampa. For a $3 fee, the vehicles will take people to and from bus stops within a three-mile radius. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. TBX opponents set to host forum on toll road alternatives

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Opponents of the state's controversial Tampa Bay Express plan to add nearly 100 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay's highways will host a forum Tuesday night to discuss alternatives, such as light rail and rebuilding Interstate 275 as a street-level boulevard.

    The Heights Urban Core Chamber is organizing the event, with the focus on maintaining community values while addressing transportation needs, said president Kimberly Overman. Overman and others are also part of the Stop TBX movement. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion Post 111 at 6918 N Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights....

    The Florida Department of Transportation told the Tampa City Council on Thursday that its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan to add toll roads to 100 miles of bay area interstates will be re-evaluated during a two-year pause. The new plan should be ready by 2019. About a third of the original $6 billion TBX project consists of rebuilding the "Malfunction Junction" interchange of Interstates 4 and 275. [SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times]
  5. Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards sues the North American Soccer League

    Civil

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards hopes to one day join Major League Soccer. But before he joins a new soccer league, he has filed suit against his old one.

    Edwards is suing the North American Soccer League for fraud, claiming he never would have bought the Rowdies if he had known about a "criminal conspiracy" involving the league.

    The lawsuit, filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on Thursday, seeks to void any agreements with the NASL and asked for Edwards to be awarded costs and damages. The team left the NASL in 2016 and started playing in the United Soccer League this year....

    The Tampa Bay Rowdies now play in the United Soccer League, but owner Bill Edwards hopes to join Major League Soccer.
  6. DOT: Revamped TBX plan expected in 2019

    Blog

    The Florida Department of Transportation is taking two years to reevaluate its controversial plan, known as Tampa Bay Express, to add toll lanes to nearly 100 miles of interstates.

    Director of Development Bill Jones made a 10 minute presentation to the Tampa City Council Thursday about what exactly the TBX “reset” means. He told the board for the Community Redevelopment Area that DOT will have a new plan for the project by the end of 2019....

    Opponents of Tampa Bay Express march past Interstate 275 in Tampa during a 2016 protest of the $6 billion toll road project.
  7. Tampa Bay Express toll lanes will go back to the drawing board until 2019

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The Florida Department of Transportation is taking two years to re-evaluate its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan to add express toll lanes to nearly 100 miles of bay-area interstates.

    DOT director of development Bill Jones made a 10-minute presentation to the Tampa City Council on Thursday explaining exactly what the TBX "reset" means. He told the council that the state will have a new plan for the project ready by the end of 2019....

    Florida’s DOT told the Tampa City Council that the controversial Tampa Bay Express plan to add toll lanes to 100 miles of bay area interstates will be re-evaluated until 2019.
  8. Father: 5-year-old son killed in St. Petersburg house fire was playing with lighter

    Fire

    ST. PETERSBURG

    When Robert Vann awoke to the smell of smoke and a blaring fire alarm Tuesday, he said he had no idea what started the blaze that would kill his 5-year-old son.

    His 4-year-old daughter, the father said, would later tell him she saw her brother Hassan Jerome Vann, 5, playing with a lighter in his bedroom.

    "He was fascinated with the lighter," Robert Vann, 71, said Wednesday. "He was flicking it and watching the flame."...

    Elmira Vann, 9, looks through the doorway of her home where her brother Hassan, 5, died during a house fire while she was at school Tuesday. Another sibling, Robert Vann Jr., 7, also was at school when the fire broke out.
  9. Cross-Bay Ferry enters final weeks of pilot

    Blog

    The Cross-Bay Ferry is entering the final stretch of its 6-month pilot program, which is set to end April 30.

    March was a record month for ticket sales, said spokesman Richard Mullins. The ferry generated more than $57,000 in ticket sales to return to the the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

    HMS Ferries started covering its management costs in late January, which meant money from ticket sales has since gone back to the four governments who invested in the pilot....

    People take advantage of the view from the upper deck as the ferry left Tampa for St. Petersburg on Feb. 9.
  10. Family escapes St. Petersburg house fire, but cannot rescue 5-year-old boy

    Fire

    ST. PETERSBURG — Jalisa Young was watching TV in her living room around 11:45 a.m. Tuesday when she heard the screams.

    She peeked outside and saw smoke billowing from her neighbor's house.

    A woman ran out first. A 4-year-old girl trailed behind.

    "She looked back to see where her brother was," Young recalled. "But he was inside."

    "My baby," the woman wailed. "My baby is in the house."...

    A St. Petersburg police spokesman said the burned home on the 2700 block of Sixth Street S was declared a total loss.
  11. St. Petersburg man faces manslaughter charge after fatal bar fight, police say

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — A 32-year-old man faces a manslaughter charge after a Sunday night bar fight that cost a man his life, according to St. Petersburg police.

    Vincent Hollingsworth, 62, was playing pool Sunday night at the Stinger Bar on 2222 49th St. S when he got into a fight with his opponent, police said, striking him several times in the face with a cue ball.

    Two bouncers at the bar broke up the fight and separated the two men. But then police said Mario Stephens, 32, came up behind Hollingsworth and hit him over the head with a beer bottle....

    In addition to Sunday’s violence, Stinger Bar, 2222 49th St. S, was also the scene of a fatal shooting in April 2015. 
  12. To restart Tampa Bay Express, officials head to St. Louis to learn the art of compromise

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The Florida Department of Transportation is hoping a trip to St. Louis can help revive its controversial plan to add toll lanes to nearly 100 miles of Tampa Bay interstates.

    The local DOT office will take a group of about 20 politicians, activists and business members to Missouri in April to learn more about how transportation planners and community members there came together and compromised on a highway construction project....

    Tampa Bay DOT secretary Paul Steinman says St. Louis found ways to work with the community.
  13. In Florida, asking for transportation money can mean playing by DOT rules

    Transportation

    Elected lawmakers requesting money for roads and transit projects in the state budget run the risk of crossing the Florida Department of Transportation.

    If it comes as a surprise that control over much of the state's $10 billion annual transportation budget is in the hands of bureaucrats as opposed to lawmakers held accountable by voters, those more familiar with the process say that's just the way the system works....

    Some officials say going through the Florida Department of Transportation's five-year plan is a better way to ask for transportation money than through the Florida Legislature.
  14. Lawmakers can request state money for transportation, but Pinellas and Hillsborough legislators aren't asking

    Blog

    Each year, legislators ask the state to pay for projects in their communities. Some of those requests make it into the budget, others don't. But this year, Hillsborough and Pinellas lawmakers aren't asking for nearly as much money for transportation projects as their counterparts in other parts of the state....

    State Senators from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties asked for less money for transportation projects than many of their peers.
  15. Tampa Bay's legislators aren't asking for state transportation money; a fractured approach doesn't help

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Tampa Bay leaders aren't shy about proclaiming the need for more transportation dollars.

    There's $1.2 billion of unfunded road projects in Pinellas County. That number climbs to more than $4 billion in Hillsborough.

    Cash-starved transit agencies in both counties spend less per resident than counterparts almost anywhere else nationwide.

    Local officials have considered everything from raising the sales tax to using BP oil spill settlement money to plug Tampa Bay's growing transportation gap. Yet as they've scrambled to fill the void, Tampa Bay's state lawmakers have taken a pass....

    It's not just that Hillsborough County's haul of state dollars has been dwarfed by other similar-sized counties over the past three years. It's that state lawmakers aren't working to close that gap, either. Lawmakers from HIllsborough have requested only $1.9 million in transportation projects next year, a tiny fraction of the $700 million in statewide requests for transportation money. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]