Hillsborough County has pushed back more than $13 million in road projects scheduled to break ground this year in the SouthShore and Brandon area because of the weak economy.
County officials identified 13 projects for work this year, ranging from new traffic signals to the widening of intersections. Now the projects may be delayed until 2014 or longer while they hope for a rebound in the funding source, the Community Investment Tax.
"The hit was equally felt all over the county. We tried to make sure that no one area was targeted more than any other," said Steve Valdez, a spokesman for the county's Public Works Department.
Long a part of the capital improvement program, the projects were deemed shovel-ready by county officials, meaning design work and land acquisition were complete or nearly complete and they only needed to award the contracts to start the projects.
The culprit for the delays is the weak economy. Much of the county's budget for road construction comes from the CIT, the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1996 to help pay for roads, new traffic signals, storm water pipes, and sewer and water lines, as well as fire houses, schools and libraries.
Officials say community investment revenues plunged after peaking in fiscal 2006 when the fund reached $107 million. By 2010, the fund had dropped to $88 million. The revenues have since started returning, but at a grind-it-out, slow pace.
Officials are hoping the economic recovery helps replenish the fund so that many shelved projects can be put out to bid in 2013 or soon after.
The first three months of fiscal 2012 looked promising. Compared to same period last year, CIT revenue grew 4 percent. If the trend continues, by year's end the fund could hit $95 million — its highest point since 2006, said county economist Kevin Brickey.
Among the projects that were on tap this year: $5.6 million in improvements to Bloomingdale Avenue east of Lithia-Pinecrest Road, including a traffic signal and eastbound turn lane at Bloomingdale and Pearson Road; a $2.2 million reconstruction of the Valrico Road and Sydney Road intersection; a $2.1-million reconstruction of the John Moore Road/Parsons Avenue and Lumsden Road intersection; and an $800,000 upgrade of various traffic signals on Big Bend Road, U.S. 41 and Apollo Beach Road to improve traffic flow.
Housing growth has overwhelmed the four-lane intersection at Sydney and Valrico roads. The plan was to add northbound and southbound left turn lanes from Valrico onto Sydney and to extend the existing northbound right lane on Valrico.
The John Moore Road/Parsons Avenue and Lumsden Road intersection is swamped with traffic heading to and from the Brandon Parkway and Causeway Boulevard.
The county was planning multiple fixes with construction of both eastbound and westbound right turn lanes as well as a southbound right turn lane onto John Moore. Existing turn lanes would have been lengthened to hold more cars to prevent backups onto through lanes.
"All of the projects on this list are justified projects and need to be done," Valdez said. "They need to be done because of traffic volume and an insufficiency (of room) at the intersection. They were all totally justified projects from a need basis, but the long and short of it is you have to balance the budget and when the revenues stop coming in you have to make adjustments."
County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said he expects CIT funding to come up during the commission's budget workshops and that a discussion will likely take place about which road projects can be started and which to keep on the shelf.
"As a result of declining CIT revenue we've had to defer many projects, which is the bad news," Hagan said. "But the good news is that as the economy improves and as revenues increase we may be able to bring these project back into the fold. Also, our bonding capacity will improve and that will allow us to take on more projects."
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected]