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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough Commission wusses out with transportation vote

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

Six Hillsborough County Commissioners took the wuss way out Wednesday on a major vote about the future of transportation here. I would say I’m shocked, but mama and my Sunday school teachers always told me never to lie.

The commission has done little over the decades to show commitment to thinking and planning for anything except the next election. So, chalk up the 6-1 vote to spend $812 million in the next 10 years on another transportation (must not laugh, must not laugh) “plan” as proof this board is as gutless as all the others.

I totally expected it.

Basically, the (guffaw) “plan” is supersized heavy on road work and micro-mini on any semblance of future-think on mass transit. About 42 percent ($346 million) of the total package is earmarked for widening existing roads or building new ones. They also will spend $276 million on and road and bridge maintenance.

Translation: status quo, although given the snail’s pace of traffic here it’s more like status whoa.

With the exception of newcomer Pat Kemp, commissioners know they all wear the scarlet “T” for their continued hand-wringing about the lack of transportation options that don’t include cars in Hillsborough. At public meetings, they have taken turns admitting they know traffic is choking the area and getting worse.

But like their predecessors have done for years, they keep waiting for someone else to solve the problem. They lack the will to tell naysayers that the county must invest money in a comprehensive system that gets cars off the road.

That’s the problem — too many cars, not enough land or asphalt.

You mention rail, though, and the Tea Party people lose their collective minds. Rail costs money, they scream — so commissioners instead spend lots of money on things that don’t solve the problem. It gives more political cover to approve what essentially is a box of Band-Aids rather than risk making enemies of a group that might protest.

People and officials agree that Hillsborough’s bus system is woefully inadequate, and people who use the bus routinely complain about convoluted routes that require them to spend hours riding a bus just to get home or to work.

And one day, promise, they’ll come up with something (stop laughing) to make it better — if any of us live that long.

Then we get this: Out of the $812 million the commissioners approved to spend on addressing the transportation needs in Hillsborough, guess how much went toward solving the real problem of getting cars off the road?

Answer: $1 million for more studies, including one on the idea of a ferry linking MacDill Air Force Base to south Hillsborough and another on HART’s pilot program for on-demand cars to take drivers to and from bus stops.

Yippee.

There are some coins in the $812 million for sidewalk improvements, but most of it will go to more roadwork. That means more traffic cones and those dreaded flashing signs warning commuters that three lanes are about to merge into one.

Somehow, commissioners think that’s acceptable because it keeps dedicated anti-tax people from organizing and showing up at public meetings to protest.

Meanwhile, studies routinely show Tampa Bay’s traffic is bad and getting worse, and voters last year seemed to finally say they have enough. That’s how Kemp, who campaigned relentlessly that officials must honestly this problem, was easily elected.

You would think the other Hillsborough commissioners would have gotten that message too, but it’s hard to change a mindset. They opted for the same ol’ same ol’ safe cover as usual.

Surprising?

Get serious. Of course, that’s something this county commission doesn’t seem to know how to do.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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