Hillsborough Transit Planning Forum

02/09/10 Mark Anderson
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Around 50 people gathered in Sun City Center this morning to hear more about transit improvements in Hillsborough County. County Commissioners asked for citizen feedback before scheduling the ballot referendum that would raise sales taxes by 1 cent to fund transit improvements.

Later this year, Hillsborough County voters will make the call on the tax hike proposal, which would provide $180 million annually for road, bus and rail transit. The commission is seeking citizen feedback prior to scheduling the vote. The Sun City Center attendees seemed to be evenly split over the proposal. Several supporters were new to the area, and brought their own perspectives on how transit worked in other cities.

Jim Harkins was skeptical of the proposal. He feels HART diverted money from a previous bus project to the Tampa trolley, leaving citizens of the South County area with an empty promise.

The initial phase of light rail includes lines from downtown to the USF and Westshore areas. Later expansions are for lines to Brandon, South Tampa, and the Northwest County area. Several Sun City residents pushed for an extension to the South County area. Mary Shavalier is Chief of Planning and Program Development for HART.

Many attendees like Harkin, had the same concern, that the tax will largely be paid by residents of unincorporated Hillsborough, and that the main beneficiaries will be residents of Tampa, where the proposed light rail is located.

HART is counting on getting around half the light rail funding from the Federal Government, and laid out a long path ahead. They don’t envision beginning construction for 5 or more years. Shavalier said it could be difficult to get Federal funding.

HART is focusing in the shorter term on improving bus services. They believe that this is needed to move people to the rail line corridors, and that it’s the only way to make progress in the short term. The proposed bus improvements include more frequent service, adding more express routes, and adding to their recently announced Flex services. Ed Baier is Manager of Transportation Planning for the County.

Today’s meeting was one of a series of 7 requested by the County Commission. To learn more about future meetings and plans, visit the Hillsborough Transportation Task Force.

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