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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. HART bus service will improve for most riders, but some Hillsborough areas will lose routes altogether

    Mass Transit

    RUSKIN — The first public meeting seeking input on Hillsborough County's proposed new bus system made one thing clear: while most riders will see improved service, some pockets of the county will be dropped entirely.

    Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority officials explained during a workshop Monday at Hillsborough Community College's Ruskin campus that those who live by popular routes can expect more frequent service following more direct paths....

    Justin Willits of Tindale Oliver uses an interactive map at a workshop Monday in Ruskin to show how the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority's new bus route system will affect riders. Users can click a spot on the county map and see how far they can get within a 15-minute ride versus and hour-long ride. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. Hillsborough transit agency seeks feedback on bus route cuts

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough's transit authority is seeking feedback from bus riders as it looks at redesigning its system this fall and cutting nearly 20 percent of its routes.

    The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will hold the first of 18 public meetings on the new routes at 10 a.m. Monday at the Hillsborough Community College Southshore Campus. The month-long outreach process will culminate at a July 26 public hearing. ...

    A screenshot from a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority presentation shows two bus networks: the one on the left is the current network, with 41 routes; the one on the right is the proposed new network, with 34 routes.
  3. Florida's worst spies: Espionage comes to the Sunshine State

    Public Safety

    American culture is fascinated with spies, and Florida has links to some of the most intricate espionage cases the country has seen. Here are a few high-profile cases from recent years.

    George Trofimoff

    It took 25 years for authorities to capture George Trofimoff. Decades of providing highly classified documents to the Soviet Union finally caught up with him when he was arrested at Tampa hotel in 2000. ...

    George Trofimoff was arrested by the FBI in 2000.
  4. Hillsborough leaders vote to go forward with TBX's toll lane successor, Tampa Bay Next

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County leaders voted Tuesday to move forward with a plan to add 90 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay's interstates despite continued opposition from the people whose neighborhoods would be impacted the most by the project.

    The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization — a 16-person board which approves transportation projects — listened to more than 3½- hours of public comment on its Transportation Improvement Program, which lists the county's priorities for the next five years....

    More than a hundred people attend the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization's public hearing Tuesday on its five-year transportation plan. Several attendees held green signs calling for more transit, and a majority of speakers opposed the controversial plan to add toll lanes to the area's interstates.
  5. Cheeto the sea horse almost became a snack. Now read about Funyun

    Wildlife

    CLEARWATER — A sea horse called Funyun was released into the wild Monday after tourists found her washed up in the sands of Indian Rocks Beach.

    But first, there was Cheeto.

    Last month, a mom and daughter spied a seagull with a small, orange item in its mouth. When the bird dropped its unappetizing catch, the pair realized it was a sea horse....

    Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Don Stansell wades to a grass flat to release “Funyun” on Monday.
  6. Hillsborough leaders take up transportation plan today

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Transportation leaders will meet with Hillsborough elected officials today to vote on their priorities for the next five years, which right now include spending money on the controversial Tampa Bay Next plan.

    The Metropolitan Planning Organization — the group that approves transportation projects for the county — will host a public hearing to adopt its five-year plan tonight at 6 p.m. at Hillsborough County Center. The Transportation Improvement Plan is updated and approved annually....

    Hundreds of Tampa Bay Express supporters and opponents packed county center last year for the big Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization's vote on TBX. After 8?- hours, the MPO voted 12-4 to keep TBX on track. The meeting didn't end until around 2:30 a.m. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
  7. Florida Department of Transportation's top official for Tampa Bay region set to depart

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The top Florida Department of Transportation official overseeing the Tampa Bay region will step down next month.

    District 7 Secretary Paul Steinman sent an email Friday morning to his staff saying that he was resigning so that he could move to Raleigh, N.C., and be closer to his son. His last day will be July 14.

    "As many of you know, family is my number one priority," Steinman wrote. "This move allows more frequent opportunities for us to spend time together doing the simple things like prepping (for) race day and someday down the road coaching my grandkids in the fundamentals of ice hockey."...

    Paul Steinman, the top Florida Department of Transportation official overseeing the Tampa Bay region, announced Friday that he will resign next month. [Photo courtesy of FDOT]
  8. To merge or not to merge Tampa Bay's planning groups? That is the transportation question

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The business community has been touting a regional planning group as part of the solution to Tampa Bay's transportation woes.

    But not everyone is on board — including one of Hillsborough's most trusted voices on transportation.

    Beth Alden, the executive director of Hillsborough's Metropolitan Planning Organization, has some serious hangups about merging the area's individual county MPOs — each has a federally-mandated authority that plans local transportation projects — into one regional group....

    An aerial view of the overpasses over the eastbound lanes of the Howard Frankland Bridge. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |  Times]
  9. Government leaders urge businesses to become transportation leaders

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Political leaders from Tampa Bay's three biggest cities trumpeted transportation again as the region's most critical issue during a panel discussion Tuesday.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called transportation the area's Achilles' heel and singled out rail as a much-needed option.

    Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said it's an embarrassment Tampa Bay hasn't moved yet on a transit plan....

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, left, St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos discussed the area’s transportation needs at a panel Tuesday.
  10. Hillsborough transit agency braces for overhaul of bus network, route cuts

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County is getting a whole new bus network — one that is poised to cut nearly 20 percent of its current routes.

    Pending public hearings and board review, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will roll out 34 routes in October, down from the existing 41. Some of the routes will be new, some will stay the same and others will be truncated, altered or combined. ...

    A screenshot from a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority presentation shows two bus networks: the one on the left is the current network, with 41 routes; the one on the right is the proposed network, with 34 routes.
  11. Gov. Scott names Michael Dew as next FDOT Secretary

    Blog

    Gov. Rick Scott named Florida Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Michael Dew as the agency's next secretary, four months after former Jim Boxold resigned the post to work as a lobbyist for Capital City Consulting.

    Monday's announcement came two weeks after the Florida Transportation Commission nominated three candidates to the governor on May 17. 

    In addition to Dew, the commission recommended Richard Biter, former DOT assistant secretary of Intermodal Systems Developemnt, and FTC member Ronald Howse....

  12. Florida Transportation Commission nominates three finalists for DOT secretary

    Blog

    The short-list for Florida’s next transportation secretary is out, and the three nominees include current and former department employees along with a member of the Florida Transportation Commission, the board which selects the nominees.

    The commission forwarded the three names to Gov. Rick Scott’s office last week.

    * Richard M. Biter, former assistant secretary of Intermodal Systems Development, Florida Department of Transportation...

  13. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux

    Transportation

    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    More than 150 community members gathered at a Florida Department of Transportation meeting to weigh in on the future of transportation in Tampa Bay.

    The talking points were all the same as they have been in the past: Urban core resdidents called for transit, Tea Party members chafed at any mention of rail, and DOT officials held to the agency's commitment to build express toll lanes....

    Traffic starts to line up at the busy intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54 in Lutz and Lando O'Lakes. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  14. Goodbye Tampa Bay Express, hello Tampa Bay Next; but toll lanes aren't going anywhere

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Express is dead.

    The name, that is. But its replacement — Tampa Bay Next — includes several of the same projects once proposed for TBX, such as the express toll lanes on the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge.

    The Florida Department of Transportation unveiled the brand Tampa Bay Next on Monday to replace the controversial TBX, which has faced steady community backlash....

    The Tampa Bay Next plan still includes several proposed Tampa Bay Express projects, including express lanes on the Howard Frankland Bridge.
  15. Cuba ambassador sees hope for closer links

    World

    ST. PETERSBURG — Cuba's first ambassador to the United States in more than 50 years has seen the impact of renewed bilateral ties between the two countries continue to grow over the last two years

    José Ramón Cabañas, the former head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., and one of three main Cuban negotiators to help re-establish ties, shared the changes he's observed with a crowd of about 250 people at St. Petersburg College's downtown campus Saturday. ...

    Ambassador Jos? Ram?n Caba?as:   “The reality is many more Americans are coming to Cuba.”