Hillsborough County planning staff work with New Tampa residents to identify transportation needs in our area during a recent Go Hillsborough meeting at the New Tampa Rec Center.
Hillsborough County planning staff work with New Tampa residents to identify transportation needs in our area during a recent Go Hillsborough meeting at the New Tampa Rec Center.

By Matt Wiley

The community has spoken and a plan to rethink transportation in New Tampa and beyond has been drawn up. 

The $1-million Go Hillsborough transportation initiative is a wrap and the final report has been published, full of recommendations made by engineering consultants at New York City-based Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) and more than 24,000 residents who participated in four telephone town hall meetings and more than 1,900 people who took part in the more than 30 public meetings, including two in our area (at the New Tampa Rec Center on Commerce Park Blvd. in March and at the New Tampa Regional Library on Cross Creek Blvd. in April, which together attracted a total of 126 residents. 

According to the 126-page “Community Transportation Plan (CTP),” among the 15 recommendations, PB recommends placing a half-percent Local Option Transportation Sales Tax referendum on the November 2016 ballot. The half-percent sales tax is estimated to generate $117.5-million annually and would be dedicated to fixing and maintaining existing roads, relieving traffic flow and congestion (including intersection bottlenecks), building new roads and widening existing ones, redesigning and improving transit, and making walking and biking safer. PB recommends implementing the increased tax for 30 years to raise a total of approximately $3.5-billion. Of that, the plan calls for spending $980 million on road maintenance and spending $1.3 billion on both new road projects and expanding public transit. The plan calls for a focus first to be placed on maintenance and building new sidewalks and bike paths throughout the county.

“This time frame is necessary to best enable securing state, federal, and other grants and funding sources which will provide the ability to leverage additional and significant revenue beyond what is generated by the sales tax,” the report states. “Based upon a conservative estimate of federal, state and other matching funds available across the categories listed, half a percent may reasonably leverage an additional $881 million (25 percent of $3.5 billion) over 30 years.”

Voters rejected a sales tax hike in 2010 to fund transportation improvements. Dist. 7 Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, who also serves in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s seat on the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), says that she thinks that the half-percent sales tax is a good idea, but that it’s coming a little late, if the referendum is passed in 2016.

“I would have preferred that the one-cent sales tax was passed (in 2010),” Montelione says. “A lot of the people who are involved now and advocating for transportation improvements didn’t show up to vote four years ago. If they did, maybe we’d be ahead of the game instead of behind it.”

She says the initiative was important because it educated the public about how their property tax dollars don’t fund transportation projects, but that a lot of the information in the final report was already known.

“We all know that the roads need to be repaired,” Montelione says, referencing the fact that road repairs were the top priority named by the public during the Go Hillsborough meetings, although she says that what she’s been hearing from her constituents is a need for increased public transit options.

“At the bare minimum, they want expanded bus circulator service,” Montelione says.

The next step for the plan will be a presentation to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for consideration in August/September, followed by a final round of public meetings and a BOCC decision sometime between October and December of this year about whether to add the referendum to the 2016 General Election ballot in November.

The CTP states that Hillsborough County is the size of Rhode Island, with 30-percent more people, and a wide diversity of lifestyles and transportation needs. 

“Our current population is 1.3 million, and it is expected to grow to at least 1.8 million over the next 25 years – a population as big as eight U.S. states and Washington, DC,” the report says. Throughout the county, there are 12,000 lane miles of roads, 700 bridges and 600 signalized intersections.

In addition to the half-percent sales tax, the report also recommends additional mobility fees for new developments and urban redevelopment.

In the report, PB recognizes the New Tampa area as the fifth largest economic space (job center) in the county, with major employers like DTCC on Highwoods Preserve Pkwy. and USAA Insurance on Commerce Park Blvd. New Tampa finished immediately behind MacDill Air Force Base, the I-75/I-4 corridor, downtown Tampa and the CSX railway in Tampa.

The report also included a list of projects requested by residents during the public meetings. Among those requested in our area were a new transit line along Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. from Fowler Ave. to Cross Creek Blvd., with bike lanes along same corridor. A new express bus route was requested from a future New Tampa Park & Ride to the Westshore business district. Bike lanes also were requested by residents on BBD from Skipper Rd. north to Tampa Palms Blvd. as well as over I-75 on New Tampa Blvd.

For more information, please visit GoHillsborough.org.

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