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Hillsborough County Young Democrats say transportation plan should include more transit

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Nobody knows for certain if Hillsborough County residents will get to vote on a proposed half-cent sales tax for transportation this fall, but one interest group says the proposal needs a greater emphasis on mass transit before it goes to voters.

“The Hillsborough County Young Democrats are calling on our County Commission to create a plan for a real mass transit future,” HCYD President Maya Brown (pictured above) said at a press conference on Tuesday in front of a streetcar stop near the Channelside area. “As it stands now, the Go Hillsborough proposal under consideration by the County Commission dedicates most of its funding to roads. It’s time for a new direction.”

The Young Democrats say any proposal should allocate at least 65 percent of taxpayer money into mass transit projects. They say that they’re “disappointed” that the Go Hillsborough plan that was presented to the Policy Leadership Group last summer falls short of that goal.

Brown added the current plan devised by engineering consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff and approved by the PLG (which consists of the county commission and mayors of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace) forecloses “any possible transformation of our transit” with its current mix of roads to transit projects.

The half-cent sales tax option would produce about $117 million a year. Parsons officials say that’s enough to build or expand 24 miles of road, improve 65 intersections with modern traffic signals, and repair 2,600 miles of road. It would also pay for new bus routes and more frequent bus service.

Although Tampa could use a portion of the tax allocated to the city to explore transit needs, many Tampa residents expressed dismay on arrival when the plan was initially announced last summer, saying that the mix was too heavily invested in roads instead of mass transit projects.

County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the plan next month, though a date hasn’t been set for their up-or-down vote whether to put it on the November ballot. All indications are the board is divided 3-3 in supporting the plan, leaving the deciding vote to Republican Victor Crist.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the procurement of the contract awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff continues inside the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office has reportedly been completed, but the findings have yet to be announced. Serious questions about the contract were raised in a report by WTSP-Channel 10 in September regarding Parsons’ hire of influential public relations consultant Beth Leytham as a subcontractor.

There are about 40 members of the Hillsborough County Young Democrats. They say mass transit is needed to retain millennials like themselves.

“As much as we have great schools and we have a great city, how many people are we losing because they’re deterred from coming here because they know it’s a not a pedestrian-friendly place and it’s not a place that it’s easy to get around without a car,” said Sarah Marshall, Young Democrats spokeswoman.

HCYD member Josh Holton cited a Money.com survey from last summer that showed Tampa being one of the five best big cities in the nation, as “exciting,” while lamenting a study by the group TomTom that listed Tampa as having the 11th worst commute in the nation.

“People are not going to want to work in a place where they’re going to be stuck in traffic for two hours of a day with the commute,” Holton said.

SPB contacted the Tampa Bay Young Republicans for their opinion on transportation issues facing Hillsborough County. We’ll update this post if we receive any comment.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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