Stimulus funding wish list: More buses and an I-4 connector

02/16/09 Seán Kinane
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President Barack Obama is expected to sign the $789 billion economic stimulus bill tomorrow. This morning two Hillsborough agencies, the county’s MPO and HART, deliberated how they plan to use the federal funds for badly needed transportation projects.

The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization MPO, voted unanimously to place the Interstate 4 connector at the top of their priority list. The freeway between the Selmon Expressway and I-4 would ease container-truck traffic from the Port of Tampa through Ybor City.

Port Cirector and CEO Richard Wainio says the “container business creates more economic value and more jobs than any other type of activity at the port.”

“If we’re going to be competitive with all the other ports around this state and around this country and we’re going to bring that business to Tampa and create those tens of thousands of jobs that are going to come from that, we have to have the I-4 connector. It’s not going to occur if we don’t have a road that will get that cargo efficiently."

Trucks carrying containers currently travel through the heart of Ybor along 21st and 22nd streets.

Tampa City Council Member Mary Mulhern, an MPO board member, voted to upgrade the connector project to the MPO’s number one road project after she warned that the group should not just concentrate on roads, but also on mass transit.

Construction on the connector was originally supposed to begin this year, but recently the project was delayed until 2013 due to declines in gas-tax revenues. As much as $100 million from the federal stimulus could be requested for the I-4 connector, but only if financing is worked out for the remaining $353 million, according to Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary Don Skelton.

“The finance piece of it has to be figured out before that project would move forward. … The language in the bill is the ‘obligation of federal money’ … that generally coincides with our advertisement for construction. We believe we can get that project advertised for construction by the middle of June, which is about where the 120 days would take us.”

At about the same time the MPO met in the County Center in downtown Tampa Monday morning, the board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority HART met in the Ybor City administrative offices.

Ed Crawford is chief of public relations and government affairs with HART.

“Florida’s due to get a particular funding category that is primarily for transit capital, about $292 million statewide, but it’s distributed by formula. … We think that we’re somewhere in the $10 - $14 million range that we’ll get from that category. And there’s another category that’s called ‘high-growth and high-density’ areas, which we will also be eligible for. Now that’s only $21 million statewide, so it’s a smaller fund, but there’s a likelihood that we could get some money from that, because we do qualify as high-growth, high-density.”

The main federal stimulus priority for HART will be to purchase 28 new buses and several paratransit vans at a cost of $8 million, according to CEO David Armijo, who says the $14 million from the stimulus bill would be on top of any state, federal, or local funding HART already receives.

“That’s in addition to. So we would still be drawing down our [Fiscal Year] ’09 year of $10.6 million. We would add to that another 14 million.”

In addition to new buses and paratransit vans, HART’s stimulus wish-list includes capital improvements for the streetcar, replacement of fareboxes, funds for increasing accessibility, painting buses and improvements to HART’s 21st Avenue facility.

Crawford says the federal stimulus funding for transit projects must be obligated or spent within 180 days so Tampa’s proposed light rail line will not benefit from this round of federal recovery dollars.

The HART board discussed the potential to generate revenue by considering an increase in sales tax and/or raising local gasoline taxes.

HART’s CEO David Armijo says the state has given Hillsborough County the option of raising the gas tax by up to 5 cents per gallon with the revenue going toward transportation programs.

“That generates about $4.2 million annually for each one cent. … Of the five cents available, which would be up to $26.7 million.”

Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization - MPO


Tampa Port Authority

Previous WMNF coverage of I-4 Connector

Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority

Florida Department of Transportation - FDOT

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