Seldom do we stop to remember a defeat. Generally, we pause to remember victories — the things we pulled together for; the things that made a difference.
But we should remember an important community effort that was not successful a year ago: the defeat of the transportation ballot initiative in Hillsborough County. We should look back on the effort as another step toward an eventual success. This will only be true, however, if we build on the energy that the Moving Hillsborough Forward movement sparked in our community.
One year ago, Hillsborough County voters rejected a ballot measure proposing a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund a light rail system, improved bus service and technology, and road improvements throughout the county. While the measure failed, transportation efforts should not be abandoned; rather, community and elected leaders should continue to work toward achieving this important goal.
During the past year, we have seen some noteworthy accomplishments and some further disappointing news regarding local transportation issues.
• There is a will to move forward: The ballot measure passed within the city limits of Tampa and Temple Terrace, and the issue was widely discussed in Tampa's city elections in March. The new Tampa City Council and mayor have indicated that transit remains an important issue.
• The business community remains engaged: The Tampa Bay Partnership established a Transportation Task Force, engaging business leaders to seek alternate solutions to the transportation issues facing our region.
• Enthusiasm remains high: Leaders of young professional groups continue coming together to keep their members informed and engaged on the issue; eagerness for a comprehensive, modern transportation system remains high with residents ages 18 to 45.
• We are continuing to learn: Several of our elected officials and community leaders have traveled to other cities to learn more about what has and has not worked in other communities from an economic development perspective.
• Complementary projects have been rejected: Leaders in Tallahassee turned away federal dollars for a high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando, taking a $2 billion dollar project away from our region.
• Federal funding is stalled: HART stopped short of completing the Alternatives Analysis required by the federal government to qualify for funding of a local project.
• Leadership is lacking specifics: No concrete plan to address our transportation needs has been brought forward by city, county or regional leaders.
Most notably, the Central Florida area SunRail system is moving forward. Not only will their region soon have rail service, but the first Transit Oriented Development project was announced — a $200 million mixed-use project in the heart of downtown Orlando. The number of jobs created in the next three years are projected at 8,000, and over the next 30 years at more than 200,000; importantly, this includes jobs created from sustained development around the stations. This puts our region at a distinct competitive disadvantage with Orlando. This also shows how a transit system can be a powerful economic engine.
Meanwhile, the transportation issue confronts us daily. Traffic congestion is unbearable on many major roadways, and local routes are becoming more congested as well.
However, after a year of successes and setbacks, significant opportunities remain for our city, county and region to work together to find a local solution to our local problem. This issue divided us at the ballot box a year ago, but the result represented a disagreement about the best possible solution, not the underlying transportation problem. On that, most of us agree. The challenge is to find solutions that work.
Those solutions begin with leadership — both elected and community leaders play key roles. The movement toward building our transit system must be a collective effort, again partnering our diverse citizenry with an enthusiastic business community that is then met by a receptive City Council, mayor and County Commission. At all levels, our collective community has the leadership potential in place to take action on this issue.
A year of regrouping has now passed. It is time to seriously readdress how we will Move Hillsborough Forward. Coming together as a community, I am confident that we can get ourselves on track.
David B. Singer is senior counsel at Holland & Knight LLP in Tampa. In 2010 he served as the executive director for Moving Hillsborough Forward.