Transit corridor near I-4 and I-75 may be in line for some upgrades
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02/03/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: transit, Transportation, buses, rail, Hillsborough County, HART

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Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman takes notes at a meeting last year.


photo by Janelle Irwin, WMNF file photo 2013


A group of elected officials from across Hillsborough County is looking at ways to patch some of the region’s traffic woes. During a monthly meeting earlier this month, members of the Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group were given a list of 52 proposed projects around the area where I-4 and I-75 meet. Mike Williams is director of the county’s engineering and environmental division.

“They need access to the spine system to move goods and people as well. So, if you have a plant where you’re manufacturing some kind of widgets and you need to distribute them, you’re goal is to get to the spine as quickly as you can. In this case, maybe Interstate-4, maybe I-75 so you can distribute them.”

The spine system, he explained, is the network of main corridors like highways and thoroughfares that serve as a base for drivers. Smaller roads connect to the spine. But traffic on many roads is already too congested. Williams says the list of proposed improvements would go a long way to quell the problem.

“The middle set of columns or bars there is, how much additional delay per vehicle there will be if we don’t do anything but the already committed projects. So, you can see, it’s about a 25% additional delay in this particular area if we do nothing else. If we do the projects that we talked about or that we gave you in the package, than that additional delay is a little bit less than 10%.”

The list includes bike lanes, road widening and improvements to several key intersections like Broadway and Falkenberg. Similar lists are expected for corridors around economic centers like USF and Westshore. But there’s a catch. None of the proposed improvements are funded and the group hasn’t even started talking about that. Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said the group needs to have a firm understanding of what residents want before they can start addressing how to find the funding.

“And I don’t mean a survey that’s going to necessarily be asking for what voters think. I’m talking about just a pure information gleaning from the desires of our consumers here in Hillsborough County.”

And Fran Davin, an outgoing HART board member, suggested using previous data compiled through an incomplete Alternatives Analysis that was conducted prior to a failed 2010 transit referendum.

“Even though the board ultimately voted unanimously to shelf it before it was finished, that doesn’t really take away from the value of the amount of material that’s in there. All of the routes were analyzed in and out of the city, in and out of the core. All of the traffic was analyzed. All of the demographics were analyzed. All of the employment centers were analyzed. I mean, there’s a wealth of material in that AA.”

The policy group was created last year by the Hillsborough County Commission to brainstorm transit solutions. Commissioner Murman said the industrial area around I-4 and I-75 is a good place to start.

“But to pick this area as a possible nucleus, really offers so much benefit I think to the residents. Number one, to the urban core, connectivity to downtown. I mean, I can possibly even see an intermodal center at this spot somewhere. People from south county can travel in. People from Wesley Chapel, USF can travel here. I mean, it’s kind of a central part of what we’re trying to do.”

The group is also set to look at ways to incorporate rail and improved bus service. And with projects serving the whole county which includes three separate cities, the policy group is looking at ways to manage the effort across jurisdictions. No final decision was made, but the consensus among members was that HART should facilitate plans as they are decided on. Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill urged the group to come up with some oversight to manage plans so nothing gets lost when boards transition.

“Medicine landmark studies that showed the highest mortality rates happens during shift changes, between handoffs, between one shift to another. So, I would suggest that it’s especially critical for this group to think about the handoff so all of the great work that’s being done here to develop the vision, pick the projects, talk about the funding is only as good as who’s going to implement it?”

Regardless of who handles what, Williams, from the county’s engineering department, said solutions just need to be found.

“Medicine landmark studies that showed the highest mortality rates happens during shift changes, between hand-offs, between one shift to another. So, I would suggest that it’s especially critical for this group to think about the hand-off so all of the great work that’s being done here to develop the vision, pick the projects, talk about the funding is only as good as who’s going to implement it?”

The policy group meets again on February 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the County Center in downtown.

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