TAMPA — Despite drastic cuts to other roadwork, Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday approved repaving the county's signature roadway in advance of the Republican National Convention.
Commissioners agreed to empty a reserve account to come up with most of the $1.3 million needed to re-coat Bayshore Boulevard, with its mansions and condominiums overlooking Hillsborough Bay.
The idea was met with angry opposition from one of the commission's two Democrats, who said the project will leapfrog more urgent needs in poorer areas.
"I totally object," Commissioner Les Miller said. "I don't care if the (Democratic National Convention) was coming here, that's absolutely wrong."
But Commissioner Sandra Murman, a Republican who pushed the idea, argued that the convention offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the community to show its best side during the Aug 27-30 convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
She noted that some 15,000 media members, as well as representatives of many of the nation's most successful companies, will be in town for the convention. Most of them will ride along or see images of the South Tampa roadway, stretches of which are pockmarked or bumpy.
"Bayshore is our most historic, scenic road we have in all of Hillsborough County," said Murman, whose district includes Bayshore Boulevard. "This will be an economic development opportunity that we will probably never have again."
Republican Mark Sharpe said he was sensitive to Miller's concerns. But he noted that the county also is courting corporations, hoping they'll consider moving to or opening offices in the region, which could translate into jobs for poor and working-class people.
"This may in some way help," Sharpe said.
The vote was 4-2, with Republican Victor Crist joining Miller in opposition. Commissioner Al Higginbotham was absent.
Hillsborough County owns and is responsible for repairs to Bayshore Boulevard, even though it is within the city of Tampa. It also owns the Platt Street Bridge, onto which Bayshore empties as motorists drive from parts of South Tampa into downtown. The county has also overseen the bridge's recent renovation.
The county has maintenance agreements with the city, which handles some of the upkeep along Bayshore, including recent work on its bike lanes and median.
Under the plan approved Wednesday, the county would scrape a surface layer off Bayshore from Rome Avenue to Gandy Boulevard and give it a new coat of asphalt. The project does not cover concrete surface areas from Rome to Platt Street, a stretch on which car tires go pa-dump, pa-dump between sections.
Bayshore resurfacing was not planned until 2014. With the work moved up, Miller noted, the project will jump ahead of planned work along E Chelsea Street and E 17th and E 18th avenues, which cut across poorer neighborhoods in his district and are textured in places like an "alligator's back."
"So we're going to jump Bayshore over those three," Miller said. "Send that message to the public."
County public works director John Lyons acknowledged that the county doesn't have enough money now to keep up with a repaving schedule needed to prevent more costly repairs later. Ideally, he said, his department would spend up to $14 million annually on resurfacing, but it has a budget of $6.6 million this year.
The county has already delayed tens of millions of dollars' worth of other public works projects because of declining tax receipts.
But he said the work on Bayshore is not cosmetic. It should make the drive smoother for years to come, he said.
Under an option presented by County Administrator Mike Merrill, commissioners agreed to take the remaining $700,000 from a gas tax reserve account that pays for road paving projects. The money will be coupled with $600,000 earmarked for work along Boyette Road in eastern Hillsborough that didn't cost as much as expected.
"That option does not affect the roads that Commissioner Miller just listed," Merrill said, saying it won't delay any other planned road work.
Just the same, after the vote, Democrat Kevin Beckner asked the county administration to come up with a plan during budget preparations this summer to spend an equal or greater sum of money on roadway repairs in other areas, particularly poorer neighborhoods. His request passed 6-0.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.