There’s been a lot of talk about what should be included in Hillsborough County’s transportation plan should a referendum be placed onto the 2016 ballot. Although there are many things that I would love to see on the plan, I realize that many components just won’t be able to happen given the current state of the economy and the huge anti-tax sentiment that still looms over many voters. This however should not stop our leaders from coming up with a comprehensive plan that can win the hearts and minds of supporters, the opposition, and the undecideds.
In the next few minutes, I’m going to briefly outline what I would like to see in the county’s plan. Please keep in mind that this first list is a bare-bones minimum, meaning that this is what I see that the plan MUST include regardless of things like a new light rail line to the airport.
At a Glance
- Referendum Basics
- Includes a mix of roadway, transit, and pedestrian/bike facility improvements/expansion. All three categories need to be included, and clearly outlined to voters.
- Half-cent sales tax instead of a full-cent, or perhaps even just a quarter-cent. I think full-cent sales taxes have scared voters in the last couple elections.
- Keep the property taxes in place…for now. I strongly believe that while the Greenlight “tax swap” wasn’t a bad idea, many voters got confused as to what it really meant. Leave this off the 2016 referendum, it can be placed on a future referendum if desired.
- Roadways – A portion of the sales tax revenues will need to go towards shoring up existing roads and building new ones.
- Transit – A portion of the sales tax revenues will need to go towards improving and expanding the HART bus system; improving existing routes, creating new ones (including Express and MetroRapid routes), as well as modernizing and expanding the TECOline Streetcar. The Streetcar MUST be a part of the plan. It would be a waste of funds, other resources, and investment if the Streetcar is not improved.
- Pedestrian/Bike Facilities – Finally, a portion of the sales tax revenues will need to go towards building and maintaining pedestrian/bike trails, bike lanes, and other meaningful facilities that will encourage more pedestrian and bicyclist activities throughout the county.
In a bit more detail
Now let’s go into the three components in a bit more detail…
In respect to roadways; money will be able to go towards fixing existing roads that are in desperate need of attention, as well as building new roads where they are needed within the county. This component is especially crucial to those residing in suburban areas of the county, as they may not be sold on just a transit plan. However, not all of the money can go to just roads, the other two components must get a fair share as well. Remember, the Tea Party insiders are chanting “FIX OUR ROADS FIRST” but what they REALLY want is more TOLLED ROADS. We can’t let these insiders get their way with having more TOLLED ROADS built.
In respect to transit; the HART bus system can barely keep afloat with what it has. The additional money will allow HART to focus on getting more buses and create more new routes, including those to suburban areas, much sooner than later. It will also allow HART to revise existing routes and gradually even move off of the hub-spoke system and onto a grid system. With all of this in place, HART would be able to serve more of Hillsborough County and double its network within 5 years or sooner, instead of 10 to 15 years.
Additionally, funds can be allocated to improving the TECOline Streetcar, which has been struggling in recent years. Improvements can begin with limited-scope tasks such as increasing frequency while HART and the Streetcar Society tackles the bigger issues, like resolving the CSX liability debacle and finding out ways to entice residents to use the line. Later on, funds can be put aside for the eventual modernization and expansion project, which means completing the loop around downtown – with a connection to the Marion Transit Center – expanding existing stations, and purchasing modern LRVs. Save the heritage stock for special events and charters.
Finally, in respect to pedestrian/bike facilities, funds can be allocated to completing unfinished bike/multi-use trails within the county (there are a few of them), as well as building new ones. Money can also go towards creating more bike lanes throughout the county, which is another crucial component to the mix. Otherwise, our area remains at risk for pedestrian and bicycle related incidents.
There’s going to be a lot at stake for 2015, and in the coming months, our officials are going to want to hear from YOU as far as what you want to see in the county’s transportation plan. It is very imperative that we all provide a voice so that we can have a viable plan that everyone will agree on, even the Tea Party insiders.