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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Higginbotham not going to bat for trains

14

December

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Al Higginbotham created a stir two weeks ago when he said he'd like to keep the issue of mass transit moving forward despite voter rejection of a proposed transit tax last month. He had been one of the leading critics of the transit tax initiative and its focus on trains, after all.

Rail advocates need not get too excited, however.

Higginbotham made clear he only wants to look at what the county can achieve using existing tax dollars, and has placed a discussion on Wednesday's County Commission agenda. He made clear Tuesday to Bay Buzz that he's mainly interested in buses. And he suggested that the discussion may be a bit of slap-down of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit officials, who oversee the bus system.

"This was never intended as a rail question," he said, even though his agenda item carries the description "Request the County Administrator and County Attorney research optional funding alternatives for local rail and transit."

Rather, Higginbotham said he has requested all analysis by HART of various proposals and payment options developed before the transit tax was put to voters and said he hasn't gotten a response. He has even submitted formal public records request to HART, which he said was made necessary due to a lack of response to a less formal request for information. He said he wants to see if they present any clues for pushing ahead with new bus service short of raising taxes.

Higginbotham said he also wants to get an explanation from HART about why it has spent little of the $40 million it got from the county three years ago for bus projects, including bus rapid transit lines. He said he may seek to recoup the money unless HART can come up with a plausible explanation for the delay in work and provide assurance that those projects will be under way soon.

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:43pm]

    

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