Moving Ahead with Hillsborough County

Despite the hard referendum losses in Pinellas, Polk, and Alachua counties last week, Hillsborough County is moving ahead with efforts to place a sales tax referendum onto the 2016 ballot. Seeing an email this morning from transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay reinforces why we need better public transportation in the Tampa Bay Area, and why the status quo is no longer acceptable for residents, businesses, and visitors alike.

That same email also reinforces why I’ve been shifting to a transit activist role, and why I created the No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page. Because even with the efforts going on in Hillsborough, the opponents have already begun hammering officials on these efforts and chastising them for making the wrong choices. We cannot and will not let the opposition make waves in Hillsborough, especially with No Tax For Tracks being a household name in our region.

In the days following the defeat of Greenlight Pinellas and Polk’s My Ride/My Roads initiatives, Hillsborough leaders decided to move ahead by reaching out the various community and business leaders, as well staunch anti-tax and Tea Party supporters and activists, some who don’t necessarily want Tampa Bay to be behind the times, but just don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for a bottomless financial pit. I fully understand those who want better bus service, and need better bus service, but feel that a sales tax isn’t the way to go. I get that. However, it’s those opponents who want to really cause a stalemate by pitching the “cut, slash, privatize” message. And that, I won’t tolerate.

With that said, during the past few months, I’ve been able to distinguish these two groups of opposition; those who want to move our region forward, but not have a whopping tax looming over our heads, and those who simply will not settle for anything but “cut, slash, privatize” unless they have “their way”, which often does not include meaningful transit solutions, but rather unrealistic “expectations”. Some of you already know who fits in the latter group, but I will not mention any names in this post. That would simply deter from the focus of this post.

What is the focus of this post, is that we can’t keep sitting around with the status quo. The Florida Department of Transportation (or FDOT) has made it clear that it is willing to support more transit avenues here in Tampa Bay, specifically when it comes to the future Howard Frankland Bridge and the WestShore Intermodal Center, if Hillsborough and Pinellas can start building up worthwhile transit systems, including starter light rail lines and Bus Rapid Transit corridors. And all of that means, getting sales tax referenda to pass the ballot box, because neither HART or PSTA currently have the resources available to build a more robust system.

Unfortunately, the writing is on the wall that FDOT WILL NOT WAIT MUCH LONGER for the counties to get things in order. If we let the Hillsborough referendum fail in 2016, chances are that FDOT will simply build a huge swath of tolled express lanes along I-275, with zero chance of any rail or BRT accommodations being built. Is that what we really want for our region? More tolled express lanes? Remember, the Tampa Bay Express Lanes project (or TBX) is already largely in place and almost ready to be executed. Once additional funds are in place for this massive roadway project, the shovels will break ground faster than anyone can ever imagine.

Keep this in mind when thinking about the future of Tampa Bay’s public transport system, the bankrupted city of Detroit, MI is moving ahead with a starter modernized streetcar line. This line will open the doors to a more robust transit system within the city and outlying areas as economic recovery begins to take hold in the coming decades. Do we want even more cities to pass by Tampa? St. Pete? Clearwater? Lakeland? Think about it…long and hard. I’ve traveled to places like Norfolk, VA and see how much potential the Hampton Roads, VA region has with a starter light rail line in place. The same can play out for Tampa Bay, but we have to work even harder to get there.

With all of this said, I want to let my readers here in Tampa Bay know what is coming up. On Wednesday, November 19, Connect Tampa Bay will be meeting at Holy Hog BBQ in downtown Tampa at 6:30PM, to share ideas about how to move Hillsborough forward, as well as talk more about the 2016 referendum efforts. I ask that you please take a moment to read the email from CTB’s Executive Director Kevin Thurman, to bookmark the CTB website, and to sign up for their email updates. The more you’re informed about what’s going on in Tampa Bay’s transit efforts, the more we can do to inform voters, communicate with elected and community leaders, and knock down the opposition.

In an upcoming post, I will be talking more about what I believe must be included in Hillsborough’s transit plans for 2016, should they continue to move ahead with the referendum efforts. I will also be talking about how Pinellas needs to dust off their 2014 loss and work to get another referendum of their own onto the 2016 ballot, and make the vote A REGIONAL VOTE for better public transit.

Until next time, take care.

HARTride 2012

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