Public comment on Hillsborough transportation plan to continue this afternoon
About 15 people spoke during the Hillsborough County Commission’s meeting Wednesday morning about a proposed $600 million, 10-year transportation plan -- and more are waiting to share their thoughts later this afternoon.
Commissioner Chaiman Les Miller limited the public comment period to 45 minutes so the board could vote on other matters on the agenda. He said more than 30 people had signed up to speak. Those who did not have time in the morning are invited to address the board in the afternoon session. It’s unclear how many will come back to give their statements.
The proposed project list is a road-centric plan focused on safety improvements at intersections and schools, road resurfacing and new and wider roads to relieve congestion in unincorporated Hillsborough.
Opponents are upset that there is no money in it for public transportation, including buses, rail or ferries.
“If we don’t plan for ways to move folks around in the urban core...in something other than cars, we are going to have a serious problem,” said Laura Lawson, chair of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Citizen Advisory Committee.
The commission voted in September to set aside $600 million over the next 10 years — starting with $35 million in 2017 and increasing the contribution by $5 million every year for a decade. At the time, commissioners said it wouldn't be enough to fund transit, which typically needs long-term commitments to get the federal government to pitch in.
This comes months after the board rejected a half-cent sales tax for transportation that would have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for transit projects, including improved bus service and a rail line connecting downtown Tampa and the airport. The rest of the $3.5 billion raised over 30 years would go toward fixing a backlog of road maintenance needs and other road projects.
The project list under review Wednesday is similar to the one commissioners considered earlier this year with the sales tax. But many people who spoke at the meeting were concerned that the list hadn’t be properly vetted. Commissioners waived their board rules requiring a 10-day review period for the Planning Commission.
“There is no reason why you should slam through a roads only proposition,” said Kent Bailey, chairman of the local Sierra Club. “Slow this down. Take some time to hear from the people. A 10 day cooling off period is not unreasonable.”
The Planning Commission still had time to review the plan and and did approve the projects, county administrator Mike Merrill told the audience Wednesday,
Ann Kulig, executive director of the Westshore Alliance, urged the board to move forward with the plan. Kulig said it contains funding for critical funding, including a planning study for Westshore Boulevard. It would also create needed connections for future transit to operate on, she said.
The board is expected to hear additional public comment when it reconvenes after lunch.