THEA Cares: Addressing Climate Change in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay region continues to expand with an influx of new residents in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, Tampa Bay gained about 47,000 new people, marking this as a year that attracted one of the highest amounts of new residents gained in any year in the last decade. THEA is preparing for our region’s growth and planning with transportation projects that link communities with effective transportation and mobility choices. Included in every aspect of THEA’s planning is a vision for Tampa Bay that proactively addresses the region’s needs and provides efficient, safe, and reliable solutions. Embedded in our planning process are environmental considerations that address the climate crises by seeking ways to reduce the impact of driving in the region. THEA’s top 5 environmentally conscious initiatives:

All-Electronic Tolling

The Selmon Expressway was the first expressway in Florida to be entirely electronic. Electronic tolling improves driver safety and traffic flow and dramatically reduces pollution by cutting fuel consumption. According to an Economic Impact Report released by USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway has demonstrated positive environmental impacts. Using the expressway rather than a roadway with frequent stops reduces annual carbon dioxide emissions by 58,000 tons and saves $16.2 million in fuel and vehicle operating costs each year.

Solar Energy

In the fiscal year 2020, 44% of our toll transactions were collected using clean energy. We have produced 55,038 kWh with our solar panels, which is enough energy to offset 4,860 gallons of gasoline. Fighting climate change by cutting carbon pollution and expanding clean energy helps us build a stronger Tampa Bay community for future generations.

The AET Tolling Solar Power System is a pilot project to use solar energy to power AET equipment on the Selmon Expressway. Continual enhancements are made to the tolling system’s operational components, including the Selmon West Extension infrastructure.

Activating Spaces with Pocket Parks

The Selmon Greenway is a 1.7 mile, 15-foot-wide urban trail running mostly beneath the shade and rain protection of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. The Greenway’s bicycle and pedestrian path link Ybor City, Channelside, and the Downtown District to the Riverwalk, encouraging residents and tourists to walk and bike to their destinations. It provides a critical link for downtown exercise and offers an eco-friendly alternative for work commuters in downtown Tampa. 

THEA has continued to invest in the Greenway by adding more green space and increasing connectivity. Installing lighting in 2020 helped encourage more commuters to bike instead of driving for commutes to the connected neighborhoods. Investments in pocket parks with benches, landscaping, and even a well-maintained dog park are part of the long-term planning by THEA to enhance people’s ability to enjoy the outdoors in downtown Tampa.

LED Lighting

Standard LED bulbs can be up to 80% more energy-efficient than conventional bulbs. Along the REL (Reversible Expressway Lane), we have installed LED lighting. This project costs THEA $800,000, but since LEDs require less power than traditional forms of lighting, the project will reduce our agency’s future power needs. THEA is implementing more energy-efficient lighting along Meridian Avenue and also in the Selmon Extension.

System Preservation

System preservation is a major priority for ensuring safety, efficiency and reducing waste. THEA’s preservation program is based on ongoing maintenance and monitoring of the system and identification of future preservation needs. This includes regular inspections to assess the physical condition of infrastructures such as bridges, drainage structures, roadway lighting, roadway pavement conditions, signage, and pavement markings. When there is a more innovative, environmentally friendly solution, THEA’s engineering team evaluates and updates. THEA maintains a 30-year planning horizon for the preservation program that includes short-term and long-term replacement and renewal projects.