HART alternative analysis could depend on sales tax

09/10/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday


The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) is conducting a study of possible transportation routes from USF to downtown, and from downtown to the Westshore business district. This “alternative analysis” could help determine the route of future light rail lines, assuming county residents are willing to pay for them.

A regional transportation network is expected to have its light rail beginnings in Tampa. A USF to downtown line could open by 2018 and another line from downtown to Westshore could follow three years later. HART is studying the options for exact routes in these corridors, according to Mary Shavalier, their chief of planning and program development.

“So we’ll be studying different alternatives, looking at everything from traffic, from environmental issues, from right of way, constructability, and trying to determine what we should do and where this project should go.”

Shavalier says that for both the northeast and the west corridors, there are several route options that HART will consider.

But the HART study doesn’t just evaluate routes, Shavalier says. It also looks at whether light rail is even feasible, or if less expensive options should be considered.

“We’re looking at a wide range of alternatives from basically [what] our bus service is today – that’s on the low end – to enhancing our bus service, adding new routes and frequency. And then the higher order alternatives would be anything from light rail transit to bus rapid transit. They have more investment, higher level technology, and often separate right of way.”

Hillsborough County voters could go to the polls next year to decide whether to increase the sales tax by a penny in order to pay for long-term transportation options, including a light rail network. If approved, 75% of the tax would go toward mass transit while 25% would go toward road improvements. David Armijo, HART’s CEO, feels the tax increase is the key to funding regional transit.

“It’s very important. It does a lot of things to improve transportation in this region. Without those resources it’d be very difficult for us to make improvements that will help the people of Hillsborough.”

If county voters approve a one cent sales tax increase, it would be authorized for thirty years. Armijo says the local funding will help leverage money from state and federal sources.

“The bottom line is this thing would bring in, over a thirty year window, about a $13 billion program. Of that, about $2 billion will come from the federal side of the aisle. The lion’s share, about $7.5 billion, will be coming from the sales tax initiative. So, local support for these projects would come primarily from the people within Hillsborough County both from our current ad velorum and the property tax as well as the sales tax initiative that we’re talking about here. So the vast majority would come from that. We’d see about 10% sharing of cost by the state and about 35% sharing coming from the federal government in various new grants and projects that would support this.”

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman suggested looking at a half-cent sales tax increase. Armijo is open-minded to alternatives to a full penny hike.

“Well, a half-cent sales tax can certainly be, you know, discussed. It would certainly improve things. It would just require perhaps doing less in the transportation plan. That would certainly be something that would be for further discussion both by the task force as well as the BoCC - the Commissioners. The reason that the advocation of a full penny has come forward is that there’s so much need in Hillsborough.”

Bus rapid transit routes, new express bus service, more local bus routes, on-demand busses, and local circulators could all be part of long-overdue transit enhancements, Armijo says.

“Perhaps the fact that we’ve waited so many years – going back to a decade or so ago, there was a Committee of 99 which came forward with a similar-type plan and wanted to do more things for transportation. In the past decade we’ve seen traffic congestion gets much worse. The fact that we’re now 11th heaviest congested traffic area in the country is just really surprising for this region to think we’ve reached that point. So something needs to happen and we certainly need to have that discussion. But it’s still good that Commissioner Norman is willing to at least look at some form of transportation improvement and I think that’s positive.”

HART’s planning chief Mary Shavalier agrees with Armijo that sales tax revenue is a necessary part of Hillsborough County’s transit future.

“Unless we get local money to both beef up our bus service and to help build the light rail and to operate it over the long term we will not bring in any federal money for this project. So [the sales tax increase is] critical for us to go forward.”

HART will hold three community open houses later this month to solicit input on the future of the county’s transit. You can find out more on their website, or by calling 813-223-6831.



WMNF coverage of Jim Norman suggesting considering a half cent sales tax increase

WMNF coverage of TBARTA

HART’s alternative analysis

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