Tampa City Council member Luis Viera recently hosted a Q-n-A session with transportation and engineering officials to discuss needed road improvements in Tampa Palms and other areas of New Tampa.

A gathering of roughly 30 mostly Tampa Palms residents showed up at Compton Park on Feb. 24 for an outdoor meeting with City of Tampa officials to discuss speeding along Tampa Palms Blvd., but the conversation turned to plans to repave the road and add some traffic-calming measures — perhaps two roundabouts or some traffic lights — with money collected from a 1-cent tax amendment passed in 2018.

Most of those in attendance seemed pleased with the plans for safety improvements for Tampa Palms Blvd.

But, before their coffee even had time to cool off the following morning, those plans had come to a screeching halt because the money to pay for them is now in limbo.

On Feb. 25, the Florida Supreme Court voted 4-1 that the 1-cent transportation tax amendment, which passed with 57% of voter support, was unconstitutional because it restricted where and how the money could be spent. District 4 Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, who filed the lawsuit, argued that All For Transportation (AFT), the group that led the fight to pass the amendment, dictated how local governments could spend the money, usurping the authority of the county commission.

The transportation tax already has raised $500 million intended to fix many of Hillsborough’s transportation woes, as well as improve the City of Tampa’s bus service.

More than $50 million of that amount was earmarked for City of Tampa projects, including the Tampa Palms Blvd. improvements, as well as enhancements like the much-needed repaving of New Tampa Blvd. in West Meadows.

“The ruling is a big hit to our community,” said District 7 Tampa City Council member Luis Viera. “When it comes to the most pressing issue of traffic and congestion, we are running so far behind. This is just devastating.”

Viera says he will support putting a replacement tax on the ballot in 2022. He has also scheduled a town hall with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor for April 21 from 6-7 p.m. at the New Tampa Recreation Center, for those who want to ask what’s next for the needed roaded improvements in New Tampa.

Cal Hardie, a transportation engineer for the City of Tampa, told the Compton Park gathering that the design of the changes for Tampa Palms Blvd., which cost $600,000, was already paid for and under way. But, the actual construction, which would cost $3-$4 million and include restoration of the road’s surface from the Wellington subdivision to Bruce B. Downs Blvd., bike lanes, safer crosswalks and traffic-calming mechanisms, was reliant on the transportation tax monies.

Similar work would be completed on New Tampa Blvd. as well, perhaps at the same time, Hardie added.

Without that money, Hardie said the City of Tampa would have to look into finding federal funds, which can take longer, or multi-modal transportation impact fees, but suggested “the coffers are pretty dry.”

Hardie said the traffic calming on Tampa Palms Blvd. could come in the form of two roundabouts at the north intersection of Tampa Palms Blvd. and Compton Dr., with another roundabout another closer to Tampa Palms Elementary. 

The cost of a roundabout is roughly $450,000-$500,000, Hardie said, which is not that much more than the price tag for a traffic signal, which is around $350,000.

“A roundabout reduces accidents 60 percent more than a traffic light,” Hardie said. “It also reduced accidents 80 percent more than a stop sign.”

But, that is up to the designers and the public, who will get their say in public meetings once the plans are completed.

And by then, maybe the money to complete the construction will materialize.

Viera assured everyone at the meeting that if the Supreme Court knocked down the tax, he would pursue other funding. 

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