The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted 6-1 on Wednesday to approve a $600 million transportation plan that would fund projects in the area over the next 10 years, despite severe criticism from some members of the public who say it skimps on funding transit and the needs for the city of Tampa. It calls for spending $123 million for intersection upgrades and new traffic signals, $291 million for resurfacing streets and maintaining rights of way, and $346 million for congestion relief.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner dissented, saying he thought the board needed to spend more time deciding on how to distribute the funds. He said that there were inequities between funding the cities in the county and the unincorporated areas.
Other commissioners took turns bashing the public for what they said was significant misinformation about the plan being promulgated.
“No public input?” questioned Al Higginbotham, who proposed the $600 million plan that evolved out the aftermath of failed votes by the board to put the Go Hillsborough half-cent transportation tax on next month’s ballot. “The information that these advocates are getting is not correct,” he said.
Ken Hagan also said he didn’t understand the concerns by members of the public that anything was being rushed, saying the process has been underway for nearly four years.
Higginbotham, Sandy Murman and other board members insisted that Wednesday’s vote was just the first step in the long process of beginning to address the county’s yawning transportation needs. “This is about years of neglect,” Merman said, adding that she wished the new plan could be “more robust.”
“Transit is very important to this board. It’s important to me,” Murman said. “We can build on this.”
Wednesday’s vote did not call for the funding of certain projects, only that they now are being installed in the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The board ultimately approved an amendment by an Hagan to include the resurfacing of more local roads in the ultimate project list.
The Go Hillsborough plan would have created a dedicated revenue source for transit and transportation for the next thirty years, including providing hundreds of millions of dollars for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency (HART). However on two different occasions this year, the board voted against giving the public the option of voting for a half-cent sales tax to pay for it.
Commissioner Victor Crist said he’d like to see the city of Tampa begin to make a larger contribution to transportation, saying, “If mass transit is important to them, then what are they wiling to put on the table, and we should then look at possibly matching that.”
County Administrator Mike Merrill said that the city has a number of Tax Incremental Finance districts that the county (downtown, Channelside, Ybor). He said the revenues that the county provides for those TIF’s could be used by Tampa for transportation. “It’s not that we’re ignoring,” he emphasized.
Before the meeting, the board heard from some if the citizenry.
“Once again on the agenda before this board, yet another plan solely focused on automobile travel almost exclusively,” said Laura Lawson, who disputed the notion that the plan was just a continuation of projects listed on the Go Hillsborough wish list. “I went to the Go Hillsborough meeting. I live in the city. The city asked for transit. They asked for bike/walk. I don’t know how you can say this is Go Hillsborough, when it leaves out an entire part of the picture. The city is part of the County. We do pay county taxes, but are needs aren’t being met by this spending plan.”