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Road projects become a sticking point in transit-tax plan

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners received two drafts of possible language for a November transit tax referendum Wednesday, and both of them now include the word "rail."

But commissioners also were told that other unresolved issues mean it likely will be April before they can hold a public hearing and vote on whether to officially place the measure on the ballot.

Those issues range from whether to include language that spells out what portion of the money raised by a 1-cent sales tax hike would go toward transit vs. rail, and which roads would get widened.

"I thought we could have gone through those issues today in an hour," said a disappointed Commissioner Mark Sharpe, a leading advocate for the referendum. But he said he didn't believe the board was ready after an already long meeting Wednesday.

The most sticky issue at this point may be choosing a list of projects that would be paid for by the 25 percent of tax hike proceeds that are expected to be dedicated to roadwork.

A transportation task force has already recommended potential projects, taken from a priority list developed by the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization.

But some east and south county residents have objected to the inclusion of six roadway segments in southern Hillsborough totaling more than $110 million.

Each is near future residential development sites of Newland Communities.

By virtue of its development agreements with the county and state, Newland was already on the hook to pay for those road projects. But with residential construction at a near standstill, that is not likely to happen soon.

So the task force had recommended that the county pay for the work and seek reimbursement from Newland later when the company moves forward with construction. But skepticism from resident activists prompted the county to back off that plan.

The problem now is that means southern Hillsborough County would see little roadwork from the tax hike even though its residents will be asked to approve then pay for it. Already, most of the new tax money would pay for a new commuter rail system in Tampa.

"I don't see any reason that south county residents would support this at this point," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan.

Resolving that issue will be a point of focus in coming weeks, with county employees seeking input from south county civic groups and including their suggestions for other road work that is needed.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

Road projects become a sticking point in transit-tax plan 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 11:59pm]
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