By: Allison Wallrapp, Voice Committee Member Tampa Bay residents may soon have a more robust set of options when it comes to public transportation. Last week, Hillsborough County made public the documents outlining their initial plan to overhaul transportation in the county. The records were released as the direct result of a public records request submitted by Connect Tampa Bay. The plan, whose release had been delayed since June, outlines the county’s plan to reduce traffic congestion and commute times, improve safety, offer more transit options, and promote economic development. Hillsborough County government leaders have spent 14 months working on the plan, which includes a number of proposed projects. Conscious of the tax-for-transportation referendum that Hillsborough County voters rejected in 2010, county administrators, led by Mike Merrill, are looking for residents’ feedback on the projects. As such, the county will host public panels, have designated contacts for both the media and the public, provide regular updates to clubs, and include information flyers in utility bills. The proposed projects include the following:
- A rapid transit route between the Westshore business district and downtown Tampa, which could be serviced by bus and rail;
- A transit corridor connecting downtown Tampa with the University of South Florida, using express bus service and later development into light rail;
- “Premium” bus service on Dale Mabry Highway linking Raymond James Stadium, Hillsborough Community College, Carrollwood, and Lutz;
- A ferry service between Gibsonton and MacDill Air Force Base;
- Bridge upgrades and replacements, among other projects; and
- Sidewalks, bicycle lanes and trails across the county and cities of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace.
In order to fund the projects, the county will look to voters to approve a one-cent sales tax increase. The proposed tax would generate an estimated $6.1 billion over 30 years. Additionally, the county plans to seek private funding and state and federal grants to cover the gap between the tax revenue that would be generated and the cost of the proposed projects. Transportation options set the stage for Tampa’s economic development, lifestyle ratings, and competition with other cities in the national arena. Thus, if we as young professionals want to see improved transportation and more transit options in Tampa, we will have to be a part of this conversation and offer our feedback and suggestions. The county’s transportation policy leadership group will be meeting on August 12 to review and approve the project list. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at 1:30 p.m. in the second-floor boardroom at County Center, 601 East Kennedy Boulevard, 26th Floor, in Tampa. While attendees will not be able to give feedback at this meeting, it is a great opportunity for young professionals to become informed for the upcoming Public Engagement Meeting series, where we can give feedback and voice our opinions on the plan. Read more about the plan here: http://hillsboroughcounty.org/index.aspx?nid=3263. Be sure to follow In the Loop for more transit updates.