By Tamas Mondovics
As expected, Southern Hillsborough County area residents came out in force to attend a recent town hall meeting seeking answers for the county’s ongoing and ever increasing transportation issues.
The joint meeting hosted by Commissioners Stacy White (District 4), and Sandra Murman (District 1), held on Monday, June 26 at Lennard High School in Ruskin gave a clear testimony to all present of the magnitude of the problem at hand even as officials are tasked with balancing population growth with traffic, transportation and mobility woes and a budget deficit.
The panel of officials including Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) Chief Executive Officer Katherine Eagan, Florida Department of Transportation Planning and Environmental Administrator Ed McKinney, Jacobs Engineering Planning and PD&E Group Director Scott Pringle, County Administrator Mike Merrill and several members of the County Public Works and Transportation staff faced nearly 200 in attendance, all with serious concerns and plenty to share.
“We are glad to see a large crowd of folks many of whom feel disconnected and deserve to know what we are doing on their behalf,” Murman said. “South County residents are dealing with gridlocks, congestions and delays that we cannot ignore.”
While mentioning progress and upcoming projects such as widening 19th Ave., Big Bend Rd. and Apollo Beach Blvd., Murman said things are getting better, but as a whole the county is far from being done.
“Step one is better roads, step two is better transit,” Murman said, adding that the pressure is on, but that it is only the beginning.
Commissioner White agreed with the sentiment that South County is in need of much more attention, when he said, “I am on the record stating that South County is a red headed stepchild and we got to pay better attention.”
White added that he is also on the record to say that the community needs a strong voice and he and Commissioner Murman want to give ear to residents and address these pressing transportation issues.
A major concern on the table—pending public hearings and board review—HART is reportedly planning to roll out 34 routes in October, down from the existing 41.
Eagan said, that some of the routes will be new; some will stay as is while others will be altered or merged, as the new network is promising better travel time and more direct trips.
“We are in the middle of a reboot to help residents with their transportation problems,” Eagan said, adding, “With the upcoming changes the overall service should improve.” But not everyone agreed with or believes in HART’s plans.
Summerfield, Riverview resident Cristal Primous, currently drives to a bus stop in Gibsonton just to board the 47LX HART bus and ride for about 30 minutes to her downtown job.
Primous expressed her concerns about HART’s plans of rolling out its new bus network which will cut 20 percent of its current routes. “They are talking about cutting or merging 47LX,” she said. “If they do, my commute will take nearly two and a half hours. I think you can understand my problem.”
Primous hoped that by actually listening to residents, county officials will take into consideration the difficulties in south county.
Although boasting of its increasing ridership, HART is facing the same issues as most in the county—money.
White and Murman have promised to take the comments and concerns of their constituents seriously, while HART has scheduled a series of public meetings this summer to give feedback on its proposed new routes.
A public hearing is also scheduled for July 26 before the staff to present the plan to the HART board in August. Visit www.HCFLGOV.net.