More transit needed in Hillsborough County transportation plan, Commissioner Murman says
TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman wants more money to go toward transit projects when commissioners decide this week how to spend the $600 million they set aside for transportation.
The proposal on the table would mostly direct the money to repave streets, improve safety at intersections and near schools, and alleviate congestion by widening and adding roads in unincorporated Hillsborough County.
“Basically, it’s a list of roads,” Murman said.
Murman said she will lobby to set aside some money for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the government agency that operates the county’s bus service, to expand transit options. She singled out adding circulator service as one potential avenue for those funds.
She also said a proposed ferry that would connect south Tampa and MacDill Airforce Base to Apollo Beach “needs to be in play.”
The ferry is a project that has been pushed heavily by Ed Turanchik, the former commissioner-turned-lobbyist who represents the companies trying to bring water transportation to Tampa Bay. Turanchik worked closely with Murman to help kill the failed half-cent tax increase for transportation and together they authored a proposal to instead use growth in property tax revenue to pay for roads and transit needs here.
That proposal, however, was rejected by the majority of commissioners because it was based on speculative revenue forecasts and drew criticism from bond and financial advisers. Instead, commissioners voted to set aside $600 million for transportation over the next 10 years from a variety of revenue sources.
“We're going to spend a lot of money with no transit,” Murman said. “Had we adopted my plan we would've had enough revenue for transit.”
That, however, was not a given. Under Murman’s proposal and the alternative that eventually passed, the 10-year commitment was likely not enough to unleash the federal dollars needed to build expensive transit projects.
HART CEO Katharine Eagan said at the time that it would have been difficult under Murman’s plan to expand service because there was no annual commitment. For HART to add bus lines, for example, it needs assurance that the money will be there for more than one year otherwise it’s just an unfunded mandate. Under Murman’s plan, though, HART would have to ask the county for money every year with no guarantee commissioners would say, “yes.”
Instead, the county is planning to use much of the $600 million to tackle the backlog of maintenance and safety projects. It’s largely the same list that made up the Go Hillsborough plan, but without the transit.
Commissioners unanimously approved that project list earlier this year.
Murman didn’t say how she would vote Wednesday (her comments were left in a voicemail late Friday). However, she sounded like she was of the mind to move forward now and tweak later.
“We have so many maintenance needs, capacity needs, safety needs for our roads,” Murman said, “and those do need to be started immediately.”