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County urges extension of gas tax

Pinellas County motorists would toss their quarters into cash registers instead of tollbooths under a proposal tentatively approved Tuesday by the County Commission. Commissioner Bruce Tyndall strongly supported extending the gas tax, saying it would create a pool of money commissioners could use for necessary traffic improvements in the future.

"I think most people identify this (measure) as toll relief," Tyndall said. "But I think that's only a minor part of it."

The gas tax, which provides money for local governments in addition to the county, is scheduled to expire in 1997.

In fiscal year 1997-98 the tax is expected to generate about $21.2-million in revenue, $15.9-million of which would go to the county. For fiscal year 2006-07 _ the last full year before the tax extension would expire _ $24.2-million would be generated, County Engineer Gene Jordan wrote in a memo.

Still, toll relief was foremost on the minds of several officials from the Gulf beaches who attended the work session. A consortium of 10 beach municipalities has urged the commission to eliminate the toll plaza on Park Boulevard, said Harold Radcliffe, vice mayor of North Redington Beach and vice president of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council.

Madeira Beach officials, in particular, would like to see the toll plaza eliminated because it prompts hundreds of motorists to drive through Madeira Beach in order to avoid paying a 30-cent toll, said Madeira Beach Mayor Marvin Frederich.

"They just don't want to spend money, so they come through Madeira Beach," Frederich said. "And that just adds to our traffic problem."

The county would have to pay $350,000 to update the toll plaza at Park Boulevard, Jordan said. And in order to pay for the improvements, the county would likely have to increase the tolls to 50-cents a car, a consultant said.

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