Category Archives: NTFT Hillsborough Truth Page

All blog posts relating to the No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page and the No Tax For Tracks anti-tax groups.

Will the Tea Party sabotage any chance of a 2016 transit referendum?

TP Cover 2

UPDATE – 6/6/15

Sharon Calvert’s latest “Eye on Tampa Bay” blog post is out. And as usual, she has nothing good to say about the Go Hillsborough process. Please take a few moments to read her post, then come back here to see what she REALLY wants for Hillsborough County transportation.

ORIGINAL POST – 6/3/15

With the mainline phase of the Go Hillsborough public outreach process officially concluded, Tea Party activists, insiders, and supporters are gearing up for what could be an extremely heated battle against the public transit supporters and activists. In fact, this battle could be far more polarizing than what occurred during the Greenlight Pinellas campaign. It is very clear that the Tea Party is willing to go leaps and bounds to ensure that Hillsborough County continues its UTTERLY FAILED pro-road status-quo at the expense of not placing another dime towards public transit or even pedestrian/bike facility improvements.

The truth is, the Tea Party would rather see Hillsborough’s public transit system be completely de-funded, slashed, and privatized; something that activists like Sharon Calvert continue to vehemently deny. Sharon has already made it clear that she wants ZERO PUBLIC INVESTMENT in Hillsborough’s transit system. Instead, she would rather continue her “Fix Our Roads First” facade to pitch for NEW ROAD FUNDING, including the MONSTROSITY that is the east county tolled beltway (also known as “The Green Swath of Death”).

Why is the Tea Party so desperate to derail transit expansion in Hillsborough?

The answer to this question is quite simple. The Tea Party wants to ensure that Hillsborough is FOREVER CAR DEPENDENT, just like how many Tea Party activists, politicians, and supporters want the entire United States to remain car dependent. These insiders, activists, and supporters continue to spew out “articles” and “studies” that “conclude” that people are willing to stick with the failed pro-road status quo and that transit ridership is plummeting across the nation, except in the so-called “legacy cities” like New York and Boston. These same folks also argue that the future of transportation lies within ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, as well as autonomous vehicles, while failing to acknowledge that technological advances have been made in railway travel since the 1970s. If these such advancements, like automated subway and people mover lines, are acknowledged by the Tea Party, often times, it is a very negative outlook that is meant to sway public opinion against passenger rail transport. Instead, these insiders, activists, and supporters are continuing to point out that “boondoogle” rail is “antiquated” and “wasteful”.

Children’s Board Vote can no longer be used as a “puppet show” for the Tea Party

Some of you here in Hillsborough may recall that the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, which only a few years ago was drenched in a scandal, had it’s property tax funding originally up for a renewal vote in November, 2016…the same time that county leaders are aiming to place a possible transit referendum. Having two crucial voter-mandated items on the same ballot would have been a voter education nightmare because the fear was…that voters would not want to vote on two important funding matters at once. Furthermore, having the Children’s Board vote at the same time as the transit referendum would have, without a doubt, given Sharon Calvert and No Tax For Tracks prime opportunities to delay – if not completely derail – the transit referendum in favor of getting voters to only vote on the Children’s Board funding re-authorization. However, state legislative action has effectively removed a mandate that Hillsborough County hold the Children’s Board vote in November, 2016, allowing the agency more time to focus on what really matters…children and their families.

Of course, Sharon and co. are just down right HOPPING MAD over the state’s actions. They REALLY WANTED the Children’s Board vote to be in 2016.

What do you think about this change to our state law at this time?

The property tax to support the Children’s Board was to expire next year and go on the 2016 ballot for voters to decide whether to continue funding. Remember this board was full of scandals a few short years ago. The Children’s Board lobbied our local delegation to change the state law requiring children’s services councils to hold tax referendums and the change passed. This change just happens to coincide at the same time some of our county commissioners have already stated (Ken Hagan and Les Miller) they are pushing for another transportation referendum on the 2016 ballot.

The Calverts posting as No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough – May 29, 2015.

We are NOT out of the woods just yet…

Even though the Children’s Board vote is no longer a blockade for a possible transit referendum in November, 2016, there are still plenty of opportunities for the Tea Party to derail efforts for the referendum. Tea Party supporters and others who are against the referendum could very well still lobby county commissioners to not place any transit referendum on the 2016 ballot…or any foreseeable ballot in the next two to five years at least. I’m sure that there are some outlandish Tea Party activists out there (because we know that there are) who probably wouldn’t mind lobbying state leaders to pass some sort of moratorium banning local transit referendums statewide unless some crazy criteria is met first.

Sharon’s Tea Party Pipe Dream for Hillsborough

 For those of you who read my last post on Sharon, I mentioned a presentation that she and Tampa Tea Party co-founder Karen Jaroch gave to the Hillsborough Transportation for Economic Development group last year regarding transportation. Well, in this post…I’m going to break things down bit by bit so that you have the full picture of what Sharon, Karen, and other Tea Party activists, insiders, and supporters would like to see. Let’s not forget that the both Sharon and Karen are both staunch GOP political operatives. Sharon is currently the secretary of the Republican Party of Hillsborough County, and Karen is the Grassroots Manager at the Koch Brothers-connected Hertiage Action – the political advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation – and she is also a HART board member.

Acknowledgements

The first page of the presentation handout (not including the title page) lists some acknowledgements about Hillsborough County’s transportation situation. Although I agree with nearly all of the points made on this page, the very last point that Sharon makes on Millennials, I heavily disagree with. You’ve probably seen in recent months, Sharon quoting/referencing an article by the Business Insider that has some data and conclusions made by the well-respected J.D. Power and Associates. The problem here is, those conclusions aren’t true. I’m really wondering where J.D. Power got their data from, because things just don’t add up when you look at some figures.

There are real problems with the idea that the drop in driving was only temporary or due to the recession — and a closer look shows that the picture is more complicated.

Consider again the J.D. Power data, which showed that Generation Y bought 27 percent of new cars in 2014, up from 18 percent in 2010 and more than the slightly older Generation X. On its face, that would suggest that young people are buying more cars again, now that the economy is improving.

The problem with this analysis is that generations are arbitrarily defined groups. So, as Joe Cortright points out at City Observatory, you need to analyze these numbers on a per-capita basis.
Redoing the numbers, Cortright found that the survey included 77.9 million people in Generation Y (born between 1977 and 1994) and just 49.2 million in Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976). So members of Generation Y were still buying way fewer cars per capita: 47.5 for every 1,000 people, compared with 67.1.

(Source: Vox Transportation)

Once you’ve read both articles, you’ll really start to wonder just how some have arrived at the flawed conclusion that Millennials are following the same paths as previous generations when it comes to cars.

Guiding Principles

This page will want to make your head spin and probably vomit at the same time. These are the guideways that Sharon and other Tea Party members use when trying to argue their “vision” for transportation here in Hillsborough. For instance, they do not want any Community Investment Taxes to go towards transit, nor do they want any federal dollars going towards transit. They also believe that Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is some sort of evil spell that either happens overnight or doesn’t occur at all along transit corridors, and that the public should have nothing to do with funding them. And, they also believe that any transit improvements should be done in piecemeal. I have no idea where these people are getting such flawed logic from. It’s really laughable when you think about it.

The only point that I agree with on this page is that transit DOES INDEED require some sort of dedicated funding source. However, would such a transit-only funding source pass via voter referendum in this county? We already know what that answer is given the outcome of Greenlight Pinellas. Think about it. Sharon is presenting us with a loaded gun here…better head for the hills!

Transportation Options

The next few pages go over what Sharon and other Tea Party members would like to see explored while keeping in tune to “fiscal responsibility”. I don’t know about fiscal responsibility here, but clearly some of these ideas will not work for parts of the county. Remember, we really DO NOT NEED ANYMORE NEW ROADS! We need to first complete the infrastructure that is incomplete…like the Veterans Expressway through Lutz, which Sharon is vehemently opposed to.

Yes, intersection improvements are very important, as is upgrading traffic signals. However, these measures will only do so much to improve traffic flow before we are back at square one. Many roads are also getting to the point where adding additional lanes, even just turn lanes, are becoming inefficient and impractical. We simply cannot keep adding lanes to existing roads…it’s not going to do much in relieving congestion in the long term. Even projects like adding overpasses and flyovers at specific intersections (like US 19 in Pinellas for example) will only lead to induced demand. Once that overpass or flyover has exceeded its intended capacity, do we add more lanes? Do we build even more bridges? Do we double-deck the highway like the Embarcadero? What do you think we should do in cases like these?

Page 5 of the presentation handout is by far my favorite. This is where Sharon and Karen mention the dreaded “Green Swath of Death” that I talked about in detail in my last post. I cannot believe that these two actually think that this tolled beltway from Pasco into Manatee via eastern Hillsborough would do ANYTHING to relieve traffic congestion, specifically in Brandon. The TRUTH is, this highway will likely exceed $2 Billion Dollars in just construction costs, will do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to relieve congestion along State Road 60 – which is getting worse by the day, and will likely destroy environmentally sensitive lands throughout northeast, east, and south county. Not to mention create more and more and more opportunities for urban sprawl, something that Hillsborough definitely DOES NOT NEED!

Page 9 describes how Sharon and Karen strongly believe that Bus Rapid Transit-Lite, which is what HART’s MetroRapid system is structured on, is simply “good enough” for Hillsborough County transit. The two also continue to believe that HART has some sort of magic wand that they can wave…and voila! Double the bus service in five years. Keep in mind, I also support the HART Transit Development Plan (or TDP). However, the “status quo” scenarios is likely what we will have to go by unless we have further funding. With state and federal funding sources dwindling, passage of a transit referendum – whether it be a sales tax or a gas tax – is required to help fund the various needs that HART has in store. Without that additional funding, HART remains at risk of having to one day trigger massive across-the-board service cuts if the economy should go southbound again, let alone if HART runs into a budgetary shortfall, which I’ve mentioned that they are projecting to do so by Fiscal Year 2018/19.

Page 10 mentions “Private toll roads for new lane capacity”. Is Sharon implying that we should build toll roads and toll lanes that are PRIVATELY OPERATED? Let’s stop for a moment and think hard about what has happened to a privately owned/operated toll road in Indiana. That toll road could not generate enough traffic to meet projections and has thus forced the private toll road operator INTO BANKRUPTCY! And at last check, the operator has since been bought out by an Australian firm that is apparently obligated to meet the same performance guidelines as the company it bought out. We’ll have to check back in a few months to see how the highway is doing. But in short, is this what we want to see happen here? Privately owned/operated toll roads in Florida going bankrupt? How about useless jitney shuttles like what is currently in use in Atlantic City, NJ? A city roughly the size of Largo that has been on an economic decline due to its casinos going bust. Obviously Sharon must somehow think that jitneys are the way to go too, right?

A side note, I do support the high speed ferry project, which is a privately-driven endeavor.

Finally, page 11 suggests that bike facilities be kept physically separated from vehicle lanes. While I think this should be mainstream, there are many situations where completely separated bike paths are not possible. I don’t think Sharon realizes this.

The flawed Tea Party “vision” for the Howard Frankland

Sharon and many other Tea Party and GOP operatives seem to realize that having toll lanes on our interstates needs to be further vetted, yet they love the idea of having these lanes in general, especially when it comes to the upcoming rebuild of the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge. They believe right off the bat that passenger rail, specifically light rail, is a bad deal, and that the bridge would function far better with tolled lanes at a “fraction of the cost” to build light rail.

Embracing Technology

If Sharon and co. think that autonomous vehicles, drones, and smarter traffic signaling and traffic control systems will just magically relieve our roadways, I’m sorry…that is just beyond hideous! All of these technologies are no doubt huge game changers in the society that we live in, but they will only play a role in the larger transportation picture and will NOT be a substitute in any way, shape, or form to public transit systems. So in short, yes…we do need to address and resolve F-rated roadways, but we do NOT need to be expecting that autonomous vehicles will suddenly replace transit systems. Because what Sharon and the rest of these Tea Party insiders, activists, and supporters seem to not want to realize, is that many technological advances have been made in railway transportation, as I’ve also mentioned in my previous post. We have automated subway, people mover, and monorail lines that have been around for at least two decades. But as usual, these Tea Party folks would rather keep talking about how “wasteful” and “antiquated” rail is.

Reduce/Reform Regulations

One of the few major points that I agree with the Calverts on is the elimination of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates taxicabs and other vehicles for-hire. The agency has been filled with corruption in recent years, and had made it clear that they are in no way willing to work with ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft. Many previous opportunities to abolish or reform the agency have come and gone without action.

Funding Principles/Options

Pages 15, 16, and 17 are pretty much self-explanatory, but some of the points that Sharon tries to make are quite laughable. How can it be that some of these people are preaching for more government transparency when Florida has a Tea Party governor that has been doing all he can to effectively KILL government transparency?

Economic Development/TOD

Sharon states once again that TOD should not be publicly subsidized. Once again, she believes that TOD is evil and must only be done through fully private investment. Yet there is this notion that TOD must happen overnight, or it doesn’t exist at all. I wonder if that is referencing publicly subsidized TOD, or if these Tea Party folks are just making stuff up. Oh, and that point she makes about economic development occurring based on “the market needs with independent private sector investment”. Uh…hasn’t it been proven that Keynesian Economics DOES NOT WORK?

 Results

Sharon concludes her presentation by presenting various “benchmarks” that the county should follow in order to “protect the taxpayers”.

Do you agree with Sharon?

With exception to a few things, I sure don’t. What Sharon and the Tea Party have in mind for Hillsborough is NOT what we the transit activists and supporters have in mind.

AMENDMENT – 6/6/15

Let’s now go through some key points in Sharon’s latest “Eye on Tampa Bay” blog post, where she critiqued the final portion of the outreach meetings. Of course, it should be no surprise that Sharon did her best to make it out to the Go Hillsborough meetings. She wanted to make sure that citizens were swayed into following her pro-road agenda…plain and simple. Notice the wording in her first paragraph…

These last meetings forced you into small groups with a facilitator and a scribe to record your comments on what types of transportation projects each person in the group would like to have funded and what funding options each person would support.

SERIOUSLY SHARON?

The word “forced” makes the reader think that sitting down as a group with a facilitator, and discussing how we can reach a common consensus on a transportation plan, was a terrible thing. Knowing how Sharon is with stuff like this though, it really shouldn’t be a surprise. Sharon clearly believes that the entire Go Hillsborough public outreach process has been a joke since day one. And quite frankly, I think for the remainder of the process…she will continue to think that the whole process is one huge circus act. Go figure right?

Here’s some other key takeaways from Sharon’s post:

  • Parsons Brinckerhoff is a “crony-connected” entity: The biggest thing that Sharon and her minions try to project throughout her various posts on Go Hillsborough, is that the engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, is nothing more than some “crony-connected” entity who is simply continuing the “gravy train” across Hillsborough. This is simply not true. The county has done a good job in selecting Parsons Brinckerhoff, a renowned engineering and design firm, as the consultant for the Go Hillsborough process, and the county did what it was supposed to do when it narrowed down and selected its consultant, something that Sharon and other rail haters have heavily disputed…unfortunately without the facts.
  • Existing funding options should be explored first…before new ones: Sharon argues that existing funding sources, like farebox revenues, weren’t even discussed at these meetings. Now, while I am unable to confirm any of this because I was not present at the meetings, I can say that when crunch time comes around…I’m pretty sure that all funding options, new and existing, will be considered. Keep this in mind, even if we do all we can to creatively use existing monies and financial sources, these sources will not be able to fully suffice the funding gaps that exist within Hillsborough’s transportation network. This is especially the case when state and federal transportation dollars remain in question for the foreseeable future.
  • Go Hillsborough is intentionally hiding information from the public: I wonder what some of these rail haters drink each day, I mean seriously, some would really have to wonder. Yes, there are some assumptions that certain funds may be available. But I’m sure county officials are fully aware that there is that chance that certain federal and state funds will not be available. I don’t call that deceiving the public, yet Sharon and the other rail haters certainly think otherwise.

To conclude this opinion, let’s see what Sharon wrote at the end of her post…

Thus, the GoHillsborough campaign ends attempting to gain consensus on transportation funding options, especially new revenue sources, that has no association to the costs of what is to be funded.

These last meetings confirms that the GoHillsborough campaign has basically been a taxpayer funded opinion driven and opinion driving campaign.

Do opinions make for good policies, especially opinions from those who are first timers to a GoHillsborough meeting and came basically uninformed?

Maybe another sales tax referendum was already written and defined by an unelected bureaucrat and a politically well connected PR person and GoHillsborough was simply a million dollar taxpayer funded front for it.

We will find out on June 11.

Really Sharon? This entire process was a circus act to begin with? Sheesh, these words make me want to PUKE! I really have to wonder about the TRUE ASPIRATIONS of the Tea Party. It’s more clear than ever before that Sharon has absolutely no problem with taxpayers funding more new roads, and especially more new toll roads. But at the same time, anything that has to do with transit is an automatic death sentence for any transportation plan. With that said, yes…we will find out on June 11 what the next steps of the plan are…and then see if Sharon’s head will explode yet again…

Sorting through the pro-road agenda of…

TP Express

We’ve been hearing quite a bit from Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert over on the Go Hillsborough social media pages as of late, as she tries to ram through her blatantly pro-road/anti-transit agenda. Let’s a take a look at one comment that she made…

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And then you can see us transit supporters and activists rebuking her rather pointless comment. 🙂

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(Source)

So what does Sharon REALLY want for Hillsborough? Well, it’s very clear that she wants to continue the pro-road status quo that we’ve been having to deal with for decades. And, she wants to continue that status quo AT ALL COSTS! Even if it means that our public transit system winds up being privatized (which is what Sharon wants to see happen anyways). The truth is, the Tampa Bay region lies towards the bottom of so many rankings when it comes to transportation, and unless we do something to change that negative picture, we as a region remain at risk of losing valuable employers. Yet people like Sharon believe that we don’t need a robust public transit system to attract new employers and keep existing ones in town. Furthermore, when we…the transit supporters and activists, make progress in making sure that Hillsborough County is able to provide more transportation choices for its citizens, Sharon resorts to childish criticism…as if we are all Kindergartners.

Notice that in the screen cap below, how Sharon does this…

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Uh, last time I checked Sharon, this isn’t Kindergarten class. Yet you continue to resort to childish name calling when you don’t get what you want.

Folks, it really shouldn’t be surprising that Sharon resorts to such desperate tactics. She and her husband Mark continually think that the transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay is full of incompetent, whining, and lying monsters. That is DEFINITELY NOT THE CASE. The truth is, people like Sharon just don’t want to face THE TRUTH. They only want to spew what THEY PERCEIVE to be the truth. I applaud Kevin Thurman, who is the Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay, for putting Sharon in her place, every single time she lashes out with her childish antics. Remember folks, the #GOPClownCopter is full of politicians who often times act in the same way.

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Way to go Kevin! Putting Sharon right in her place. 🙂

(Source)

What is Sharon doing?

Before I go any further with this post, let’s take a look at what Sharon is a part of and what she does:

Secretary of the Republican Party of Hillsborough County

Head and Co-Founder of the Tampa Tea Party

Head of Tampa Bay Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation (TBCOST)

Head of No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough

Blogger for Eye on Tampa Bay

AND ABOVE ALL…A GOP POLITICAL OPERATIVE!!!

In addition, Sharon also manages the Fix Our Roads First page on Facebook, which I’ll go into a little bit.

Hillsborough County’s transit system as it is right now, is not “good enough”.

The number one thing that angers me the most when it comes to these Tea Party insiders, activists, and supporters, is the widespread perception that the current bus system is simply “good enough” for Hillsborough County. In fact, Sharon continually argues that the bus system has no funding gap. The truth is, the bus system DOES HAVE A FUNDING GAP! And a MAJOR FUNDING GAP at that. Furthermore, there will NEVER be a point to where transit will simply be “good enough” for the needs of the county, because transit is always needing to evolve to be able to better serve the needs of its customers. Right now, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) simply does not have the funding it needs to efficiently run its system as it is, nor does it have the funding to be able to make robust improvements in the way it serves county residents. While the agency is doing all it can to find ways to maintain existing transit service, the grim possibility remains that any budgetary shortfall could trigger massive across-the-board service cuts.

In fact, as recent as April of 2015, HART is already signaling that those severe service cuts could be on the way. It is currently projected that without any new revenue sources, the agency would begin to experience a budgetary deficit of roughly $475,500 dollars during Fiscal Year 2018, which could rise to $2.3 million dollars by 2020.  If this scenario were to play out, there is no doubt in my mind that many of the service improvements that HART has enacted since 2006 will all be wiped out by 2022 due to the realization of having to trigger these massive service cuts. Just sit back for a moment and imagine if you took Route 6 from downtown to USF, which currently runs every 20 minutes during the weekday rush hour, only to find out that in two months…the agency will have to cut service on nearly all transit routes to 60 minute headways, eliminate several underperforming routes, and also eliminate all late evening and weekend service? That is exactly what could happen if a worst-case scenario were to play out.

Additionally, the agency may have to hike fares more steeply, and keep older buses on hand for much longer than it wants to. Already, HART has lost roughly 20 buses since 2011 and has only had limited funds to purchase new ones, and a recent funding request to the state of Florida to fund 53 new buses won’t be heard until next legislative session. In addition, while HART has managed to only incrementally raise fares – twice since 2006, with the base cash fare going from $1.50 to $1.75 in 2007, and then to $2.00 in 2012 – there’s a real possibility that the base cash fare could be increased past the $5.00 mark, eventually making transit unaffordable for many, especially those who rely on monthly passes.

HART's grim financial future

Keep in mind that the goal of many of these Tea Party “whacktivists”, insiders, and operatives is to let the transit agencies bleed money until a point comes by which they can lobby municipalities to open the door to privatization. That is exactly what is happening in Tampa Bay, especially with last year’s defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas referendum. It’s only going to be a matter of time before HART and other agencies are no longer able to sustain basic transit service. It will be then that the Tea Party activists will do everything they can to get the municipalities and counties to seriously consider contracting out their public transit services to the private sector in order to “protect taxpayer interests”. Such moves could be exacerbated if a transit privatization attempt succeeds in Manatee and Sarasota Counties.

Fix Our Roads First? Wait…there’s a caveat…

The Fix Our Roads First Facebook Page, managed by Sharon Calvert. There's a lot more hidden to this page than what we see folks.
The Fix Our Roads First Facebook Page, managed by Sharon Calvert. There’s a lot more hidden to this page than what we see folks.

Sharon, along with her supporters, have recently been pushing the #FixOurRoadsFirst argument, which is made to sound like a push towards more roadway maintenance funding. While I agree 100% that we need to pay more attention to maintaining the roads we have, it’s clear to me that Sharon is using this argument to pitch for more NEW road funding, and we simply can’t afford building anymore new roads unless they’re absolutely necessary. Building more and more roads will equal more and more sprawl, as well as more environmental damage. All the while, all this road building and widening is creating induced demand, which will make our transportation situation even worse in 5 to 10 years.

The pro-road status quo has consistently failed us and we CANNOT continue with it! Look at the massive backlog in transportation projects that we have because of this SPECTACULARLY FAILED status quo?

We don’t need the “Green Swath of Death”

Toll_Florida_blank.svg

And speaking of toll roads, I have a question for those of you who are long time Hillsborough residents; do you happen to recall the plan to build a sprawling tolled beltway through eastern Hillsborough County at a cost of over $2 billion? Well, that plan fizzled out in 2007/08 due in part to the recession, as well as conflicting visions on transportation. However, Sharon and Mark would still love for that beltway to get built. Let’s take a look at an Eye on Tampa Bay post that was written back in March of 2015.

The “Green Swath of Death” (I thought it was black) may have helped ease congestion in the highest growth areas in east and south Hillsborough County.  Formally known as the Tampa Bay Beltway project, it was killed in 2007, largely since it didn’t fit in with the future transportation vision of light rail and express buses throughout Hillsborough County. Where are we now?  

Not having the “Green Swath of Death” certainly has not inhibited development, which of course has resulted in some of the worse congested roads in the county.

Well, news flash, the beltway will do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to relieve congestion in Brandon and surrounding areas, and most certainly it will do NOTHING to relieve congestion along State Road 60. Furthermore, the negative impact on environmentally sensitive lands had the beltway plan been on track could be astronomical, depending on where the route was going to be built. At this rate, why don’t we just build three million miles of toll roads where ever we want in the county? Right? Because had that beltway been on track to be built, we probably would see other toll road projects pop up within our metro area. Why do you think our governor suddenly popped in money to fund the tolled Gateway Connector in Pinellas County last year?

This could have been a potential route for the so-called "Green Swath of Death". Credit: Creative Loafing (click on the image to read the article from 2007).
This could have been a potential route for the so-called “Green Swath of Death”. Credit: Creative Loafing (click on the image to read the article from 2007).

Back in 2014, Sharon gave a presentation to Hillsborough County officials about her wonderful “wish list” for transportation, which includes the beltway. I was able to obtain a copy of that presentation and have uploaded it to Dropbox for you to view. I have to say that if Sharon is THIS DESPERATE to get the beltway built, then why don’t we complete the Veterans Expressway through her neighborhood of Lutz? Many of you may not know, but the Veterans was originally envisioned to be part of a beltway network around Hillsborough. But in the 1980s and 90s, the community of Lutz successfully killed the portion that would have traveled from its current terminus at Dale Mabry Highway to Interstate 275, and eventually past Interstate 75. To this day, many Lutz residents – including Mark and Sharon – simply don’t want the expressway to “destroy” their community. Yet these same residents expect us in the urban areas to keep paying for THEIR ROADS.

How about this? We siphon off Lutz from the rest of Hillsborough County and have them pay for THEIR OWN ROADS, USING THEIR OWN MONEY? Then, let’s find a way to complete the Veterans and link it to I-275 as it should have been decades ago. Maybe I can contribute to building an off-ramp through Mark and Sharon’s backyard. 🙂

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Mark and Sharon had better not use that same flawed argument again while they’re at it.

Comparing Apples to Oranges, what the Selmon is NOT…

Going back to Mark and Sharon’s blog post from March for a moment, they bring up how the Selmon Expressway’s reversible elevated express lanes have been successful in combating congestion along the eastern half of the thoroughfare. And while the elevated viaduct has indeed allowed the expressway’s level of service to increase from an “F” rating back in the early 2000’s to an “A” rating, there’s something that the Calverts aren’t getting. Unlike the managed toll lanes that are in operation along I-95 and I-595 in South Florida, as well as the Ultimate I-4 project that is under construction in Orlando, and the 589 Express (which is the Veterans Expressway’s Express Lanes) that is under construction here in Tampa; the Selmon Express Lanes are NOT DYNAMICALLY TOLLED! And as far as I’m aware, there aren’t any plans to change the tolling structure along the expressway. So until that happens, there is no real reason for the Calverts to compare the Selmon to any of the managed toll lane projects that are either in operation, currently under construction, or still in the planning books. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

Comparing the Selmon to the managed toll lane facilities. Wait...there's not that much to compare.
Comparing the Selmon to the managed toll lane facilities. Wait…there’s not that much to compare.

Maybe we should also get the Selmon extended into Pinellas via Gandy and eastward towards Polk County as it was originally envisioned back in the 60s/70s. Imagine the wonders that this would do instead of creating new toll roads? 🙂

In fact, I think that we SHOULD NOT BUILD ANY MORE NEW ROADS UNTIL WE COMPLETE THE ONES THAT WE HAVE ALLOWED TO SIT INCOMPLETE!!! INCLUDING:

The Veterans Expressway through Lutz

The Selmon Expressway across to Pinellas and to Polk

I-275 through Downtown Tampa and WestShore (including the I-275/I-4 junction that was done half-a**ed)

Dale Mabry limited access highway

NO MORE SUBURBAN ROAD WIDENINGS AND NO MORE NEW ROADS UNTIL THE EXISTING ROADS ARE FIXED FIRST!!!

AECOM transportation assessment is PURE HOGWASH!

Sharon regularly references a transportation assessment that AECOM – a globally recognized provider of technical and management support services to transportation, energy, government, and other areas – put together in mid 2014. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize how much utter junk is in this assessment, yet the Tea Party activists consistently praise this assessment as something that is reasonably produced and should be followed. Here’s some of the problems that many of us transit supporters and activists have encountered with this assessment.

First and foremost, the AECOM assessment suggests that Hillsborough County simply does not have the rider demand that is necessary to qualify for federal funds on an array of premium transit projects, like new passenger rail corridors. The assessment basically writes off light rail as being a viable transit option and throws caution to the winds of commuter rail and modern streetcar lines as being viable transit options as well. Second, the assessment suggests that we should focus on beefing up local, express, and rapid (or BRT-lite) routes before even pursuing “True” BRT (exclusive guideway BRT) lines, let alone any form of passenger rail transport. Third, the assessment suggests that any investment in transit by the county should be done cautiously and prudently.

HOGWASH AECOM Assessment

Below is a snippet of section 4.1 of the AECOM Hillsborough Transportation Transit Options Assessment – Page 11

However, the proposed Tampa Bay regional transit network does not require such high capacity technologies and the supporting infrastructure necessary to achieve such high loading capabilities. The preliminary ridership estimates for the priority corridors in the 2010 HART Alternatives Analysis ranged between 14,740 and 19,500 average total daily linked trips, depending upon alignment and technology alternative. Consequently, technologies with extremely high capacity capabilities are unnecessary.

Basically, the AECOM assessment suggests that the HART bus system as it is, is simply “good enough” for Hillsborough; and that city and county leaders – along with HART – should just “suck it up” and deal with having no “True” BRT for the next 10 to 20 years, and no passenger rail for the next 30 to 50 years.

Another question for long-time Hillsborough residents? Remember the 2004 collapse of the Selmon Express Lanes viaduct? Credit: TollRoadsNews
Another question for long-time Hillsborough residents? Remember the 2004 collapse of the Selmon Express Lanes viaduct? Credit: TollRoadsNews

And by the way, AECOM acquired URS Corportation – an engineering, design, and construction firm – in 2014. URS is the same firm that screwed up several major infrastructure projects in the United States, including…(drumroll please)…the Selmon Reversible Express Lanes. In 2004, a segment of the elevated viaduct just west of 50th St collapsed, prompting a thorough review of the structure’s design. It was later found that URS did not design the bridge’s piers to be deep enough, and did not accurately examine ground conditions along the median zone of the expressway, where the viaduct rests today. The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, which also proposed the dreaded “Green Swath of Death”, sued URS for their screwup and eventually earned $75 million from an insurance settlement. For the record, the settlement money was used to assist in funding the recent downtown viaduct widening that was necessary because of the elevated connector highway to I-4, as well as pay off long term debt that the expressway authority had amassed.

Ride Sharing is NOT A SUBSTITUTE to robust public transit

Another argument that Sharon loves to spew is that Ride Sharing services like Uber and Lyft should be allowed to legally operate, and I 100% agree with that, I think that they should. However, where Sharon and I diverge on this issue; is that she implies that Ride Sharing is a substitute for meaningful public transit, including passenger rail. This is simply NOT THE CASE! Ride Sharing can work together with public transit to serve as a “first mile/last mile” connector, something that HART is currently exploring. In other words, Uber and Lyft can fit into the bigger transportation picture by providing a link from a customer’s doorstep to a transit station. From the transit station, the customer can hop aboard a HART local or express bus, MetroRapid, or even a streetcar, to get to a major shopping or employment center. At night, when transit services dwindle down, the customer would be able to get back home by summoning a Lyft or Uber driver while on board the bus or train. That way, when the bus or train arrives back at the transit station, the Lyft or Uber driver will already be parked to pick up the customer and bring him or her back home.

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From the above illustration, showing a morning workday commute scenario, Uber and Lyft apps can be used to quickly pick up a customer from his or her home, and bring him/her to a nearby transit station. This can be especially useful during off-peak times where bus and rail frequencies tend to be less. When the customer arrives at the transit station, he/she can easily transfer to a bus or rail line to get to his/her place of employment.

FirstMileLastMile2
The above illustration shows an evening workday commute scenario where the customer takes a bus or rail line from work and then needs to arrange for the ride home from the transit station he/she will arrive at. While on board the bus or train, the customer summons the Uber or Lyft driver to meet him/her at the transit station so that by the time he/she arrives, the driver will be ready to pick him/her up. Upon arrival at the transit station, the customer is greeted by the ride share driver and is taken home. Once again, this can be especially useful during times where transit frequencies are down.

Automation…REALIZED

It makes me laugh sometimes that Sharon has argued that automated vehicles will be available much sooner than most people think. Unfortunately, she fails to realize that the process to allow the first wave of autonomous vehicles – which still require human intervention – likely won’t be available to the GENERAL PUBLIC for another 20 to 30 years at least, if not longer. Why? Because the federal government, along with state and local governments, insurance companies, regulators, the automakers, and even law enforcement agencies, all have to work together to ensure that these vehicles are not only legal to drive across all 50 US states, but also safe to drive. While some actions are in motion to make this possible, there are so many intricate movements that must occur, that trying to resolve most major concerns regarding automated vehicles could take years…even decades to do. For instance, one major question is…who would be at fault for an accident that involved an autonomous vehicle? The work for an insurance claims adjuster probably won’t be as easy as you think. Furthermore, at what point in time will these new vehicles, assuming that they do get the green light, be available to most of the general population? And at what price would dealerships sell them at? While these vehicles have a lot of promise, and will no doubt be game changers to the transportation world, too many questions still remain for me to be able to gain any sort of confidence in them.

Now a silver lining in all of this uncertainty is that transit buses will eventually become automated on some scale as well.

Now here is something that Sharon and many other Tea Party activists aren’t talking about, well…because they are rail haters. They would rather waste time talking about how a rail project has cost overruns instead of how innovative urban rail technology has gotten over the past two decades.

The Paris Metro is one of many subway systems across the globe that have at least one line operating without human conductors. The photo here is of Line 1. Photo Credit: Minato.
The Paris Metro is one of many subway systems across the globe that have at least one line operating without human conductors. The photo here is of Line 1. Photo Credit: Minato.

Across the globe, there are subway systems that have at least one line that is fully automated, meaning that there is no human conductor at the controls of the train. Instead, trains are controlled by a central command center. In the above photo of the Paris Metro, you can see that the two trains do not have traditional conductor cabins, although there are controls that are locked away in case the need of manual operation arises. In such a situation, backup conductors and transit supervisors would be summoned to manually operate the trains until conditions are suitable to resume automated operation. In Paris, there are two fully automated subway lines; the 1 and 14. The 14 Line was the first automated subway line to be built from scratch and opened to customers in 1998. In 2013, Line 1 (pictured above) became the first existing subway line to be converted from a manually driven operation to a fully automated operation. Overall, this kind of railway technology has been in place since the 1990s, but until now, no US city has really embarked on utilizing such technologies, probably due in part to strong transit unions. That picture will change in the coming years as Honolulu, HI is constructing its first fully automated elevated rail line (basically a modern version of the Chicago “L”).

Other modes of rail transport that allow for fully automated operation include automated people movers (or APMs) that are seen at many airports, including here in Florida with Tampa International Airport and Orlando International Airport, and many modern monorail lines are also fully automated. See, automated rail-based technology has been around for much longer than the current push to make personal vehicles automated, and such automated urban rail lines are no doubt paving the way for a world where there will also be fully automated commuter and intercity rail trains. Now talk about a game changer right? Of course, instead of praising the fact that the Honolulu system will be the first of its kind in the US, the Tea Party rail haters like Sharon would rather waste their time criticizing such projects for being boondoggles. It’s real sad in many ways that these anti-transit activists want to kill off transit, especially passenger rail, while continuing the pro-road status quo.

RECAP TIME!

So let’s summarize the main points of this post…

Sharon Calvert wants to continue the pro-road status quo by using the #FixOurRoadsFirst facade to pitch for NEW ROAD FUNDING, including MORE TOLL ROADS.

Sharon continues to resort to Kindergarten-style name calling when she doesn’t get what she wants.

Public transit as it is right now in Hillsborough County is “good enough” according to the Tea Party, but it is NOT good enough to be able to adequately serve the needs of the county. And YES, HART has a funding gap.

We DO NOT NEED the “Green Swath of Death” tolled beltway to be built in east Hillsborough, or ANY NEW ROAD FOR THAT MATTER! Let’s maintain the roads we have and complete the ones that lay incomplete, like the Veterans Expressway through Lutz.

The Selmon Express Lanes are NOT dynamically tolled. Don’t try to compare it to the managed toll lanes.

The AECOM transit assessment is PURE HOGWASH! Plain and simple!

Ride Sharing and Autonomous Vehicles ARE NOT SUBSTITUTES to efficient and meaningful public transit. But they are no doubt a part of the bigger transportation picture.

What’s Next?

In my next such post, I’m going to delve deeper into the presentation that Sharon gave last year and break down her ridiculous “wish list”. While there are a few points that I agree with her on, the rest is just utterly crazy! It’s very clear that these Tea Party activists want to kill off transit in every way possible and they will stop at nothing to make sure that their pipe dreams are realized.

Go Hillsborough ON RED ALERT!

Go Hillsborough ON RED ALERT

The Anti-Tax Rail Haters are attempting to sabotage Go Hillsborough!

Yes, you saw that headline correctly. It’s a blatant act of sabotage, and we MUST do everything we can to stop it! In a Tampa Tribune article that was published on April 18, 2015, Hillsborough County Commissioners Victor Crist – who has been largely opposed to any sort of transit expansion efforts, and Al Higganbotham – who has been wary of any attempt to place another voter referendum on the ballot, have made their feelings known about Go Hillsborough…and they want to completely derail the public outreach effort before it is able to even wrap up.

Furthermore, these two commissioners want to make cuts to other non-transportation programs just to fund their pro-road status quo pipe dreams. It’s clear evidence that these two county commissioners are NOT LISTENING to what citizens want, which is for more transportation choices – including improved and expanded public transit, and better pedestrian/bike facilities. Instead, these two commissioners want to propose frivolous budgetary ideas just to appease the anti-tax rail haters, some of whom have fought hard to defund, slash, and eventually privatize public transit in Tampa Bay.

You can call it a typical game of “politics as usual” here, but to me…this situation has A LOT more to it. Whether these happenings are interconnected remains to be seen and is possibly unlikely, but this revelation comes on the heels of a transit privatization attempt in Manatee and Sarasota counties. If that attempt succeeds, it could pave the way for the rail haters to lobby officials in both Hillsborough and Pinellas to privatize both HART and PSTA. Privatization of transit has also been floated in Pasco County in recent years. During this month last year, anti-tax rail hater Barbara Haselden suggested that PSTA be privatized if the agency couldn’t “provide safe reliable service to 1.6 percent of our neighbors, for those who want a ride that doesn’t take all day to get to their destination.” Privatizing public transit agencies have brought along immense consequences to customers, including lower customer satisfaction and unstable transit schedules. Agencies in Long Island, NY and Fairfield, CA have struggled since they were outsourced to private operators.

A CALL TO ACTION!

Since the publishing of the Tampa Tribune article, transit activist group Connect Tampa Bay has been pushing harder than ever to get citizens to attend the last few Go Hillsborough “Making Choices” workshops. As a transit activist myself, I share the same concerns as members of CTB do, and believe that it is more crucial than ever before for citizens to make their voices heard when it comes to wanting more transportation choices for Hillsborough County. Because of everything at stake, I am sharing with you a Facebook Event that CTB has set up (prior to this news article being published) where you can make a commitment to attend the upcoming Go Hillsborough workshop on April 28 in Temple Terrace. Together as transit activists and supporters, we are calling on as many Hillsborough County citizens as possible – who support more transportation choices – to show up at this workshop. The bigger the attendance of transit supporters, the better the chance we have to stand up for transit, and make it known to our county leaders, specifically Victor Crist and Al Higganbotham, that we will NOT tolerate an attempted hijacking of the Go Hillsborough process just so they can pony up more of OUR TAXPAYER MONEY FOR MORE ROADS. In addition, CTB has created a petition that will be sent right to County Center to make it further known to these two commissioners that we want them to listen to what the citizens want! Please sign this petition and share with all those you know who reside in Hillsborough. The more signatures that we gain on this petition, the louder the voice that will be projected to these two commissioners, and the rest of the county commission for that matter.

Please join me in supporting Connect Tampa Bay as they make sure that our voices are made LOUD AND CLEAR to our county commission. Thank you.

Trolling at Go Hillsborough

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As the Go Hillsborough public outreach process continues, out have come the trolls on the official Facebook page. Yep, you heard right…trolls, and many of them too. In fact, though I am not naming anyone specific, these are the same trolls that consistently trashed PSTA’s Greenlight Pinellas Facebook page last year. These are also the same trolls who support No Tax For Tracks, and who do not want the rest of us to have any transportation choices.

It’s bad enough trying to get a discussion back on track due to these trolls, but try to simply acknowledge that you disagree with their point of view, and that’s when the insults start flying. These trolls often love to insult voter intelligence and will stop at nothing to make you think that they’re right and we’re wrong. Pitiful and childish name calling quickly becomes the Plan B for many of these trolls, and it really is sickening to see then stoop so low to get what they want.

The point of this post today, the folks at Go Hillsborough need to make it clear that such trolling won’t be tolerated. Put these trolls on a very short leash and discourage them from derailing the conversation on transportation choices. If the trolls ignore the warnings, ban them immediately. We cannot afford to have another meaningful discussion on transportation be sidetracked by those who have made it known to us that they only want what suits them, even if what they (the trolls) want causes the rest of us to suffer.

Ideological WAR against the Calverts

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Tea Party insider Sharon Calvert has crossed a line.

She and her husband Mark are now accusing many, including myself, for spreading misinformation about transportation in lieu of the Go Hillsborough public outreach process. Now, the two have been effectively at war with the transit supporters, like myself, for quite some time now, but things are really getting heated as the possibility remains for a referendum vote in 2016. Here’s my question, why would the Calverts waste their time criticizing other people for going against their own ideological beliefs with a blog post? I mean seriously? Is Sharon that pissed off because people like me have exposed her blatantly ANTI-TRANSIT AGENDA? An agenda that comprises of effectively shutting down our public transit system in favor of having at least as many toll roads as Metro Orlando? An agenda that leads to having absolutely no choice in how we get around? An agenda that only favors Tea Party interests while punishing the rest of the community?

It’s time for these Tea Party insiders to wake up and realize that while we aren’t going to settle with what THEY WANT. It’s time to make it known about what WE…the supporters of a better transportation system…WANT.

Continue reading Ideological WAR against the Calverts

Go Hillsborough – Part 1 – An Overview

Credit: HARTride 2012
Credit: HARTride 2012

Let the discussion begin

You’ve likely been hearing about it over the past few months, but now the official public outreach process has begun in Hillsborough County. What is this outreach process about exactly? It’s about building a better transportation network throughout the county. Because let’s face it, we’re at a pivotal crossroads right now, and unless we act to fix the situation at hand, things will only get worse from here.

Continue reading Go Hillsborough – Part 1 – An Overview

Fix our Roads, yes. BUT don’t abandon transit for TOLL ROADS

NTFT Hillsborough Truth Page Logo 2

With Hillsborough County beginning its Go Hillsborough outreach process, which I will be discussing very soon (I’m still working on the first of two blog posts on the subject), the Tea Party insiders and activists of Hillsborough County, led by Sharon Calvert, are turning up the heat on county officials and making their own ANTI-TRANSIT agenda LOUD AND CLEAR to voters.

Continue reading Fix our Roads, yes. BUT don’t abandon transit for TOLL ROADS

My vision for Hillsborough County transportation – Part 1

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.

Continue reading My vision for Hillsborough County transportation – Part 1

Greenlight Pinellas Update – A poll shows…

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Earlier this month, I blogged about the different factors that impacted the Greenlight Pinellas voter referendum. Well, a recent poll has shown that regardless of whether or not light rail was in the equation, many voters simply did not want to be taxed…not even by another penny. That goes into the final point that I made in my last post, which was the overall state of the economy and taxation.

Continue reading Greenlight Pinellas Update – A poll shows…

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.

Continue reading Moving Ahead with Hillsborough County