By Tamas Mondovics
After a series of public meetings, telephone conferences, online surveys and polls all designed to fix Hillsborough Cough County’s transportation problems, a list of findings and recommendations, including asking residents to vote for a half-cent tax increase, went before the Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group (PLG) for consideration last month.
The PLG includes all seven Hillsborough County Commissioners, the mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace as well as the chair of the HART board.
To receive input, understand, explore and choose transportation options that make sense in the daily lives of its residents, businesses and organizations, Hillsborough County reportedly paid international engineering firm consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff nearly $1 million, and launched the extensive citizen feedback campaign named, GO Hillsborough.
To no ones surprise, GO Hillsborough confirmed that citizens believe Hillsborough County is facing a potential transportation crisis, which according to a recent County press release concerns local citizens “twice that of jobs and our local economy.”
County officials said, citizens clearly realize that Hillsborough County’s population is projected to grow 40 percent more in the next 25 years—a half a million more people—while suffering from significant shortfalls in transportation funding, and that the community must start planning and paying for transportation improvements now, before things get any worse.
To brighten the County’s gloomy transportation future including its unprepared roadways, backlog of maintenance needs, congestion, traffic flow and intersection bottlenecks as well as an inadequate transit system, GO Hillsborough’s emphasis of the need for new revenue took center stage.
GO Hillsborough recommends funding, what officials call a “fair, balanced, and community-driven transportation plan that will fix our roads first, relieve congestion, redesign transit, and make our lives better” by placing a dedicated half percent sales tax referendum on the November 2016 election ballot.
The increase is promising to create $117.5 million annually and, $3.5 billion over 30 years, which in part would pay for transit, building new roads, maintain and widen existing roadways including synchronizing all traffic signals as well as support pedestrian travel.
A far cry from the 2010 voter-rejected one percent tax hike, but according to Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, the newly recommended funding plan is a reasonable solution.
“While this new revenue doesn’t meet all of our needs, it meaningfully improves the lives of all Hillsborough County citizens,” Merrill said. “It will fund 100 percent of the backlog and future maintenance and 100 percent of bike and sidewalks safety needs, while creating better transit choices necessary to attract and retain jobs.”
Merrill added that the GO Hillsborough Community Transportation Plan is based in consensus and is truly community-driven. It is viable and sustainable and can be supported by a majority of the citizens of Hillsborough County.
For more information, visit GOHillsborough.org.