Valentine's Day traditionally is a day for love. But on the holiday this year, Hernando County residents will get a chance to tell state officials about something they hate: traffic jams. The District 7 Transportation Coalition, a group of businesspeople and local officials in Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, will sponsor a "Kiss Traffic Congestion Goodbye" campaign Wednesday.
In the campaign, motorists sitting at red lights or stuck in traffic jams throughout the counties will be handed postage-paid cards that will be forwarded to the state Legislature and Gov. Bob Martinez to tell them about frustration over Florida's choked roads.
In Hernando, former Hernando County Commission Chairman Len Tria and other area businesspeople will be stationed at various intersections along State Road 50, U.S. 19 and U.S. 41 to distribute the cards.
"This starts our petition drive and really kicks off our campaign leading up to the start of the legislative session (April 3)," Tria said. "Hopefully, we'll get some public support on this, because the situation with our roads has deteriorated to the point where they're a real threat to public safety."
The cards, which are addressed for delivery to the transportation coalition, state that the sender supports additional money for transportation. There is no charge for mailing the cards, and Tria hopes that thousands of people will take the time to sign their name and drop the card in a mailbox.
The transportation coalition plans to deliver the cards to Tallahassee at the start of the session to demonstrate public support for widening roads and building new ones to clear traffic congestion in the four counties.
"For instance, in our county, State Road 50 is so overdue for being made into four lanes that it's ridiculous," Tria said. "So we've got 5,000 or 10,000 of these cards that we hope to hand out to let the state know that there is support out there for the funding."
The cards don't ask the Legislature or governor to approve a tax increase to pay for improved roads. But Tria and other coalition members have been pushing for an increase in the state's gasoline tax for a year without success.
Estimates released last year by a state-appointed commission were that Florida needed to spend $40-billion in the next 10 years to improve the state's roads. Now the state's best estimates show that about $15-billion in construction may be needed.
Martinez has staunchly opposed any tax increase to pay for additional roads, and legislative leaders have been unwilling to challenge the governor's veto power.
That could change after this year's election season, but Tria and other coalition members are not willing to wait.
"The position we're taking is that we need it now," Tria said. "We have to have it now."