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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

It's a green light in Pinellas, but caution signal in Hillsborough



Pinellas County may be looking at a possible slogan for its education campaign for a 2014 transit referendum -- "Greenlight Pinellas."

But in Hillsborough County, it's all caution signals.

Hillsborough commissioner Mark Sharpe has withdrawn an agenda item he planned for Wednesday on his county's next steps to address transportation needs. His preferred approach -- full steam ahead. He'd like a companion referendum in Hillsborough County for 2014.

Instead, the commission will hear from County Administrator Mike Merrill on some steps he's been taking at the direction of the full board during a strategic planning session discussion two weeks ago. Merrill said Monday he has spoken with the mayors of Hillsborough's three cities and the head of the county's transit and planning agencies about holding a summit of elected leaders and transportation planners.

If all goes well, that summit could occur in six weeks or so. Merrill said each of the people to whom he spoke welcomed the idea, as well the county commission's notion of prioritizing transportation projects at least in part based on whether they promote economic development.

"All the folks I visited with were unanimously in support of having this kind of meeting at this level," Merrill said. "They were all very enthusiastic about the approach."

Sharpe said he withdrew his item after receiving assurances that transportation will remain a front-and-center issue, and Merrill said it will. 

A number of grassroots organizers plan to attend Wednesday's County Commission meeting to urge the board to get focused on transportation. Among the points they want to emphasize: Setting a timeline for discussions to ensure the dialogue progresses toward a plan of action.

Hillsborough voters convincingly voted down a proposal in 2010 to raise the sales tax by a penny to pay for a mix of commuter light rail, expanded bus service and roads.

[Last modified: Monday, March 18, 2013 5:18pm]


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