Go Hillsborough – Part 3 – Exploring and Evaluating Options

Go Hillsborough Part 3

In the 3rd installment of my “This is Go Hillsborough” blog series, I will be taking a look at the second phase of the Go Hillsborough public outreach process, called Exploring Options. The purpose of this series was to get citizens to think about which projects are feasible, and which ones aren’t. It was a very tough process by which everyone had to really think about “are these priorities realistically able to be carried out?” Because while expanding our bus system may be something that is able to be done with added funds, building an expansive passenger rail network might not be as realistic as some people may think it is, given the current financial climate. Now while I was not able to attend this series of public workshops, a lot was learned from the meetings.

During these meetings, citizens were asked to take the top five countywide transportation priorities that were chosen from the Understanding the Issues meetings and rank them in top 3 order. Those top five priorities were: Resurfacing (of existing roads), New Roads/Widening, New/Expanded Transit Routes, Intersection Improvements, and Sidewalks/Bike Lanes. While there was great consensus on the fact that many of our roads are failing and need extensive maintenance to keep them in shape, disagreements were evident when it came to building new roads, transit upgrades and expansion, and pedestrian facilities. After the meetings, an Issues and Opportunities Report was compiled to show citizens detailed results of both series of meetings and what can be expected as the third series of meetings, Making Choices, gets underway.

Glancing at the Top Five County Transportation Priorities

In this section, I am going to provide my opinion on each of the five transportation priorities:

Roadway Maintenance/Resurfacing

Let’s face it, many of our roads are filled with potholes and failing pavement. Over the years, funding that used to go towards maintaining our roads have diminished, creating a situation where tons of commuters are facing increased costs of maintaining their vehicles. Our vehicles can only sustain so much wear and tear from deteriorating roadway conditions before substantial damage is done. At that point, then people have to spend tons and tons of money repairing their vehicles, which in-turn can result in a loss of wages if that person can’t get to work (and has no vacation time available) due to having their vehicle out of service. Transit buses also feel more wear and tear from deteriorating roads, not just our personal vehicles, so it’s imperative that we put some funding back into fixing our crumbling roads. With the HART system in particular, remember that the agency is currently experiencing funding constraints that has resulted in the loss of roughly twenty transit buses. This means that the loss of one transit bus will result in additional stress for the system, as no spare buses will be available during peak demand. A loss of five to seven transit buses at the same time, for a prolonged period of time, could mean the loss of service along a particular bus route.

New/Expanded Transit Routes

Because of budgetary constraints and limited funding avenues, HART is unable to greatly expand its system to meet the needs of the county.  HART will need to be able to increase service on existing bus routes, as well as create new ones to be able to serve areas that currently aren’t able to be served, including parts of eastern and southern Hillsborough. However, HART is in need of funds to build a second garage and order new transit buses and paratransit vans so that those needs can be properly met. Until additional funds can come in to be able to expand the HART system, commuters will continue to be left with few choices in being able to get around. In fact, things are currently projected to get even worse in 2018 if the funding situation does not improve, as HART is predicting a budget shortfall that year. That means that by 2020, with current funding levels, HART could be forced to slash transit service across the board – retracting a substantial amount of improvements that have been made over the past decade. Fares could also go up at more steep level as a result of the service cuts, and any passenger rail options will most certainly be inhibited by any such scenario.

Sidewalks/Bike Lanes

While many streets within the county have sidewalks, there are still many out there that don’t. The streets and highways that don’t have sidewalks create a dangerous situation for those needing to walk from A to B, especially children who are trying to get to a bus stop. For example; if it rains, then where else can someone walk? More than likely, won’t be in the wet grass, but on the pavement of the roadway. If a motorist isn’t paying close attention (or in some cases, the pedestrian, or even both parties), the result could be disastrous. For bicyclists; although more streets are getting bike lanes, it’s still not enough to create a network of safe biking routes for people to use. Because of these inefficiencies in large part, Hillsborough County really isn’t that pedestrian/bicyclist friendly. And because we have such an unfriendly environment to pedestrians and bicyclists, we unfortunately have gained the reputation of being among the worst environments by which pedestrian versus vehicle incidents occur. In fact, the number of pedestrian fatalities in our area continues to rise from what I’ve been hearing.

Intersection Improvements

Improving intersections to where traffic can flow better is crucial to not only personal vehicles, but to transit buses as well. I remember for years how the the lanes of MacDill Ave at Kennedy Blvd did not line up right. Newer traffic signaling technology and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) can also help in allowing traffic to flow more smoothly. We can further improve intersections by ensuring that there are adequate sidewalks and crosswalks, as well as accommodations for bike lanes at each approach where needed. When the time arrives for light rail or streetcar lines to go in, further improvements will need to be made to allow everyone to travel in harmony.

New Roads/Widening

This is the only priority in the cluster that I question deeply. While there are situations where new roads may be needed, often to relieve congestion on an overcrowded road nearby, we have to be very cautious in where we are building any new roads, as some routes will only create induced demand and urban sprawl. Keep in mind that you may be relieving congestion on roadway A by building roadway B, but only for a short time. Because as new developments are built along roadway B, and traffic increases, then it’s only a matter of time before both roads are overburdened with traffic. Then you’re back at square one, and your county must decide on whether to improve transit or build roadway C. See what I mean? Also, widening existing roads does not help relieve congestion in the long term for the very same reason; as traffic increases, there comes a point where you’re suddenly back at square one. And your county must decide on whether to improve transit, or start giving out notices to residents and businesses along the corridor to vacate. Bottom line; we can’t keep widening our existing roads, nor can we build three million more “reliever” roadway corridors to ease congestion. These methods will only exacerbate congestion in the long term by creating induced demand in the short term. It’s maddening to see the rail haters balk at the government using eminent domain to build a passenger rail line when the same thing is being done when a new road is built, or an existing one widened.

Go Hillsborough Part 3 - Illustration A

Different areas have different priorities

The Go Hillsborough process so far has revealed that different areas of the county have different priorities for transportation. For instance, SouthShore, and much of southern Hillsborough see new roads and existing roadway maintenance as top priorities. Meanwhile, improving transit is seen as a higher priority the eastern, central, and western portions of the county, including much of the City of Tampa. In the Go Hillsborough Issues and Opportunities Report, you’ll see how each area of the county ranked their priorities in both the Understanding the Issues and Exploring Options phases, including charts that were compiled from the dot board activities during each of the meetings. During the Exploring Options phase, citizens from the combined region of South Tampa, West Tampa, Central Tampa, Temple Terrace/University, and New Tampa, saw the following as their top transportation priorities: Transit, Bike/Ped Improvements, and New Roads/Widening. Meanwhile eastern and southern Hillsborough saw Roadway Maintenance, New Roads/Widening, and Transit as their top three priorities. The same was concluded in western Hillsborough, as well as out in Plant City/northeast Hillsborough.

What was concluded?

On page 28 of the Issues and Opportunities Report, you will see the different issues that were addressed by citizens, what they value in a transportation system, their top five transportation priorities, and areas where opportunities have been realized. Below are just a few points mentioned from that page:

Issues: Significant decline in standard of living, Ineffective transit system.

Values: Safety, Quality of Life.

Priorities: Transit Options, Better Roads.

Opportunities: Recognize that together we can accomplish much more than we can separately.

Key Takeaway: There is consensus that maintenance, including resurfacing, is our community’s top priority.

Now to make the tough choices

In a couple of weeks, the third series of meetings, Making Choices, will be wrapping up. This is where you decide how you want these transportation improvements to be funded; whether it is through gas taxes, a sales tax, property taxes, or a community investment tax. Keep in mind that each method may not be able to cover everything that you desire, and that establishing a dedicated sales tax towards transportation requires a countywide voter referendum – which has previously not been able to garner enough support to pass. Furthermore, state and federal grants are very limited given that we’re still recovering from a really bad economic recession, and that tolling roadways may not be economically feasible in funding certain improvements.

If you have not been able to make it out to a Making Choices meeting, you still have time. Please see the list below for meeting dates and times. There will also be a Telephone Town Hall for those who are unable to attend the meetings so that you can still have a chance to make your voice heard. If you’d like to place an RSVP for any of the following meetings, please do so on the Go Hillsborough meetings page and select the meeting that you wish to attend.

New Tampa

Monday, April 20. 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
New Tampa Regional Library
10001 Cross Creek Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33647

Southern Hillsborough

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
The Landing & Cafe at Waterset
7012 Sail View Lane, Apollo Beach, FL, 33572

Plant City/East Hillsborough

Thursday, April 23, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Trinkle Center
1206 North Park Road, Plant City, FL 33563

Thonotosassa/Northeast Hillsborough

Monday, April 27, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Thonotosassa Library
10715 Main St., Thonotosassa, FL 33592

New Tampa/Temple Terrace/University

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Omar K. Lightfoot Center
10901 N 56th St., Temple Terrace, FL 33617

Northwest Hillsborough

Thursday, April 30, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
St. Timothy Catholic Church
17512 Lakeshore Road, Lutz, FL 33558

Making Choices Telephone Town Hall

Monday, May 4, 2015 – 7:00PM to 8:00PM
Call 877-229-8493 (Toll Free) and enter PIN: 110301

Additionally, you can voice your opinions and suggestions on Twitter, Facebook, the online comment form on the Go Hillsborough website, or by leaving a message on the Go Hillsborough Comment Line (813-274-6922).

Please mark your calendars for the Finding Consensus meetings

On Monday, May 11, 2015, the last public outreach phase of Go Hillsborough, Finding Consensus, will begin. This is where citizens have the opportunity to work together to resolve remaining differences on building a comprehensive transportation plan. This is also where you can make a difference in which funding methods should be closely examined to help fund these transportation improvements. Please see the list below for meeting dates and times. There will also be a Telephone Town Hall for those who are unable to attend the meetings so that you can still have a chance to make your voice heard. You may RSVP for any of these meetings at the Go Hillsborough website.

Brandon/Southern Hillsborough

Monday, May 11, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Bell Shoals Baptist Church
2102 Bell Shoals Road, Brandon, FL 33511

New Tampa/Temple Terrace/University/Central, West, and South Tampa

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Omar K. Lightfoot Center
10901 N 56th St., Temple Terrace, FL 33617

Northwest Hillsborough

Monday, May 18, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Town ‘n Country Regional Public Library
7606 Paula Drive #120, Tampa, FL 33615

Plant City/Northeast Hillsborough

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 – 6:00PM to 8:00PM
Trinkle Center
1206 North Park Road, Plant City, FL 33563

Finding Consensus Telephone Town Hall

Thursday, May 21, 2015 – 7:00PM to 8:00PM
Call 877-229-8493 (Toll Free) and enter PIN: 110301

Look out for the next posts in the This is Go Hillsborough blog series

Go Hillsborough Series 4A

Now that Part 3 in my This is Go Hillsborough blog series is complete, I invite you to stay tuned for Part 4 in the series, Making the Tough Choices. This post will outline my observations from the third series of Go Hillsborough meetings, as well as the outcome of all of the meetings. This post should be published sometime in May, either before or during the Finding Consensus meetings.

At the end of May, I plan to publish Part 5 in the series, Working Together to Find Consensus, which will focus on the final series of meetings. Then in June or July, I will wrap up the This is Go Hillsborough series with What We’ve Learned, which will summarize the entire Go Hillsborough outreach process.

Finally, towards the end of the year, I plan to write a couple of follow-up posts to the This is Go Hillsborough series to see where the county is at with crafting its transportation plan, and what could be next as we enter 2016.

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