Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a proposal Wednesday to spend $812 million on transportation over the next decade, with almost all of that money going directly for roads, rejecting a last-minute alternative offered by Commissioner Pat Kemp to redirect much of those funds to more transit projects.
The 6-1 vote (with Kemp dissenting) came after more than 40 members of the public signed up to speak about the proposal, with many reciting desultory statistics about how the county is the worst in the nation when it comes to funding transit.
A total of $276 million will go towards road and bridge repairs, and $127 million will go towards improving safety at intersections and near schools. There is $750,000 slated to go towards planning and designing a ferry project that would run from southeast Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force Base.
Kemp, a member of the Sierra Club who ran as a pro-transit advocate in both of her runs for county commission in 2014 and 2016, introduced a very specific alternative proposal to her colleagues at the end of the public comment portion of the hearing on Wednesday.
Acknowledging that “the train had pretty much left the station” in regards to years long work leading up to Wednesday’s vote, Kemp said that she felt a “responsibility and duty” to offer her best response to the critical issue of transit funding in the county.
“What we have here is a project list,” Kemp said.”What we need is a system plan.”
Kemp’s plan (as she floated on Tuesday) called for expanding an already existing van pool program by 100 vans in 2018 and another 100 vans in 2019; expand HART’s HyperLink program into Town N Country and Sun City Center; invest $2 million to HART to identify how to invest in bus service, and invest more in trails and greenway development.
However, it failed to gain a second vote on the board, and died instantly on the floor.
Commissioner Sandy Murman praised several of Kemp’s ideas, adding in a motion to come back and potentially incorporate several of her ideas in the two-year budget cycle. But she said it was important to follow “the process,” adding that “we can’t just slap money at HART right now without knowing what we’re throwing money at.”
Included as part of Kemp’s calculations was removing the $97 million set aside in the plan given to commissioners to wide Lithia Pinecrest Road, an item that sparked considerable debate both for and against it by eastern Hillsborough residents.
Critics contended it was only on the list of approved projects because the Brandon Chamber of Commerce backed it, while supporters said that congestion on the one-lane road made it prohibitive to have it widened.
The vote came less than a year after the Hillsborough BOCC twice rejected the opportunity to place the half-cent sales tax for the transportation known as Go Hillsborough.
Two of the three commissioners who supported the plan last year, Ken Hagan and Les Miller, didn’t shy away from the fact that some of the members of the public calling for more transit on Wednesday were critical of Go Hillsborough, despite the fact that it included $515 million for transit in the first 10 years, or 43 percent of the plan.
“I find it extremely hypocritical and disingenuous that some of the same people who opposed the transportation referendum, are now the same ones demanding transit funding now,” Hagan said.
Most of the members of the public who attended the meeting called on the board to support
“We have a world class airport in our city,” said Tampa resident Darren Booth. “It’s managed growth, the same growth that our road system doesn’t manage. The airport is managing growth because they have a leader, they have a plan, and they’re implementing their plan. What you’re doing now is not working.”
Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert supported the proposal, but requested that the county list the projects included in the $812 million, and some of the criteria about why they’re in the plan. “I think it would bring some comfort to making sure that we’re doing the right projects today,” she said.
Calvert also requested that the BOCC look at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) Transportation Development Plan, a sentiment shared not only by her colleague, HART board member Karen Jaroch, but also by transit supporters.
Transit advocate Kevin Thuman told Commissioners that they had an underfunded transit system, but said he was for once in agreement with Calvert and Jaroch that they board should fund the HART TDP.
“Tens of thousands of people depend on this transit system. It’s in your hands,” he said. “And I know, because I’ve seen it before, that each one of you when you see agreement like this, we’ll seize this opportunity, and take a chance to fund transit today.”
But when it came time to vote, the BOCC went ahead with the $812 million transpiration plan, with just $1 million of that earmarked for transit.