BRADENTON, Fla. - The Florida Department of Transportation has launched plans for a series of express lanes to be built along three Interstates in the Tampa Bay area.

While there are no details about the timeline or cost estimates for the new managed toll lanes, state officials plan to hold the first public meetings later this month.

A website has been put up for the project, called Tampa Bay Express.

The projects will add toll lanes with electronic collections and dynamic pricing to three Interstates that currently serve commuters, other drivers, and shipping traffic, making them some of the most congested in the state.

"Currently, reports have Tampa as the 5th most congested city in America with rush-hour travel adding between 31% -59% to commute times," said the FDOT's website on the project. "This means that a normal 20-minute trip is taking over half an hour."

According to the FDOT, the plan is for Tampa Bay Express lanes to be built next to existing non-toll lanes along portions of I-75, I-275, and I-4 from downtown Tampa to the Polk Parkway in Lakeland.

State officials said other options to relieve traffic congestion were explored, including mass transit, but express toll lanes were selected "as the simplest and most effective way to reduce traffic congestion and give motorists a new choice for a better commute."

Adding the new lanes along existing interstates likely would less costly than adding new roadways and bridges, or even some mass transit options, though the state's website did not provide information about the alternatives that were considered.

Public workshops are scheduled Jan. 27 in Largo, and Jan. 29 in Tampa.

"This really is just the beginning phases of public outreach. We want public input," said FDOT spokeswoman Kristen Carson. "We don't have funding yet. "These are just preliminary discussions."

According to the maps available from the FDOT, the managed lanes would not be contiguous because they will be on intersecting roadways. Carson said they could be done as one large project, or broken into several projects.

FDOT has used express lanes extensively in south Florida, where more are planned. The state has included them as part of the Ultimate I-4 project in the Orlando-area. Other managed lanes are also planned in Tampa and Jacksonville.

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