Friday, January 31, 2014

Connect Tampa Bay unveils its "Go Hillsborough" transportation plan

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 3:24 PM

The man with a plan: Kevin Thurman of Connect Tampa Bay speaks to a rapt group of concerned citizens
  • The man with a plan: Kevin Thurman of Connect Tampa Bay speaks to a rapt group of concerned citizens
While the campaign for a penny sales tax increase to expand bus service and help build a light-rail system in Pinellas County is starting to heat up, action in Hillsborough County has been moving at a much slower pace.

Obviously the transit tax measure's big defeat in 2010 scared lawmakers in Hillsborough for awhile, but that's beginning to change and Connect Tampa Bay has a lot to do with it.

The group formed late in 2012, and after holding numerous meetings over the past year with their membership, they unveiled their dream vision of what a transportation plan should look like before three dozen mostly young professionals at the Tampa Museum of Art on Thursday night.

"A lot has changed in the last year," said Brian Seel, one of the four members of Connect Tampa Bay. The biggest change was the creation last March of a policy group tasked with discussing the building of a serious transportation plan. HART’s Chairman, everal Hillsborough County Commissioners, and the mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace are all in the group.

Connect Tampa's plan calls for a one-cent sales tax increase that would raise $204 million annually (adding to the current $157 million transportation budget). Connect Tampa Bay would slice that up as such: 33 percent for roads; 33 percent for transit; 23 percent for buses; 8 percent for bike/walk; and 2 percent for ferry service.

Connect Tampa Bay's Brandie Miklus said that their report wasn't composed simply from the four founding members of the group, but from a survey representing more than 3,000 people who want new transportation options in the county. Underscoring that fact was when Connect's Kevin Thuman was asked by a member of the audience if it wouldn't be better to do what Pinellas County is attempting to do on their ballot measure — change the way transportation funding is collected by shifting the burden from property taxes to a sales tax. Thuman said he thought that idea had a lot of merit, but he wasn't the sole author of the plan.

He also batted down the idea of offering a half-cent sales tax measure, saying that would only pay for improving roads.

Thurman provided plenty of commentary during his presentation, stating flatly at one point that doing nothing simply isn't an option. To Illustrate the point, he referenced that the county's main transportation agency, HART, is growing ridership nearly every month, yet may not be able to maintain current service levels in the future because of funding concerns.

He also criticized the way that the 2010 measure was sold, saying that voters didn't have enough specifics to work with. And Thurman said that any future plan should be presented to the public by highlighting the parts that would bring specific benefits to specific areas. For instance, the potential ferry system being discussed that would run from a terminal located between Gibsonton and Apollo Beach to MacDill Air Force Base would benefit south county voters.

Earlier this week, County Commissioner Mark Sharpe was quoted in the Tampa Tribune as saying that the Hillsborough transportation group will be finishing up their meetings later this year, "and then you will likely see (a referendum) in 2015."

District 4 County Commissioner Al Higginbotham opposed the 2010 tax because he felt that was insufficient infrastructure to support the measure. He told CL on Friday that "I look forward to seeing the final details" from the policy group.

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