Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hillsborough County resumes the journey toward a transportation plan

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 4:24 PM

Everybody at the table: The Policy Leadership Group in Hillsborough County conducts their first meeting
  • Everybody at the table: The Policy Leadership Group in Hillsborough County conducts its first meeting
The overwhelming defeat of the transit tax in Hillsborough County in 2010 shell-shocked the elected officials who supported the plan.

While Pinellas County officials have worked toward having their citizenry vote on light-rail plans in 2014, nothing much has been done in Hillsborough since the resounding defeat.

But finally, lawmakers in the county who have gotten off the canvas are ready to revisit discussions about the area's transportation needs, which have only gotten more extreme in the intervening years.

Leading the discussion was outside consultant Herb Marlowe of Analytica Consulting. He dominated most of the rather dry, 60-minute meeting held in the County Center, going over the main goal of what's being called the "Policy Leadership Group."

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham expressed concerns that some of the meetings with other stakeholders (such as the Planning Commission, MPO, Aviation Authority, Port Authority, TBARTA and FDOT) were going to be closed to the public. He said that without public engagement, the issue would be stalled. He was assured by Marlowe that all meetings would be open to the masses.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe has always been a leading catalyst for improving transportation needs in the county, and he became the face (along with former Mayor Iorio) of the transit tax in 2010. Boosted by advocates from the nascent pro-transportation group Connect Tampa Bay, Sharpe proposed that discussions be resumed earlier this year.

"My sense is that young professionals are much quicker (to move) than some of us ... I don't want to poison the well by moving too fast, but I don't think we have the luxury of waiting too long," Sharpe said.

Others agreed, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

"I think people are really ready for a serious adult discussion about what our options are. It may not be pretty, but it is what it is," Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn added that people in the community are looking for elected officials to fix the area's transportation problems and "there's a cost associated with that." (It should be noted that the transit tax was passed in both Tampa and Temple Terrace in 2010.)

The original timeline that Marlowe laid out would have seen a final plan come to fruition in June of 2015, but after cajoling by commissioners, he said he was prepared to have the plan done in a year and a half, or by next December.

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