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Hillsborough County on road repairs: Pay now or pay more later

Administrators say the county needs a 10-year, $700 million investment to meet a growing list of transportation fixes.
LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
Hillsborough County Ideally should budget $700 million over the next 10 years to preserve its existing network of roads, sidewalks, bridges and traffic signals, county commissioners learned Wednesday in a transportation workshop. Shown is the 2018 widening of State Road 60 in Brandon. .[Photo Luis Santana | Times (2018) ]
LUIS SANTANA | Times Hillsborough County Ideally should budget $700 million over the next 10 years to preserve its existing network of roads, sidewalks, bridges and traffic signals, county commissioners learned Wednesday in a transportation workshop. Shown is the 2018 widening of State Road 60 in Brandon. .[Photo Luis Santana | Times (2018) ] [ "LUIS SANTANA | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published May 26
Updated May 26

TAMPA — Take all the lanes of the local and major roads across Hillsborough County and they total more than 7,200 miles. To keep the road system in better repair, county commissioners learned Wednesday they should budget $45 million annually over the next decade — or nine times more than the current allocation.

“The longer the maintenance is deferred, the more expensive it becomes,” said County Administrator Bonnie Wise. “... The cycle becomes unsustainable overtime.”

Without new funding, the county plans to budget $5.4 million in the coming year to maintain 4,680 lane miles of local roads and 2,570 lane miles of major roads. The roads are measured in lane miles, so a single mile of two-lane road equals two lane miles that need to be maintained.

The numbers aren’t any rosier for pedestrian travel. The county budgets $550,000 for repairs to its 3,200 miles of sidewalks. That’s enough money to fix 17 miles of sidewalks over a 10-year period. Ideally, the county should budget $10 million a year to fix 300 miles.

The county, meanwhile, has more than 2,400 open requests for sidewalk repairs, some dating to 2011. At the current funding level, the county would get to only 750 of those repair locations over the next decade.

The money for repairing and replacing bridges and for replacing traffic signals is also lacking.

Combined, the county’s “asset preservation” budget to keep its existing transportation facilities in good working order should total $700 million over the next 10 years. But the current funding would produce $61.5 million, or 9 percent of the ideal level.

Preserving pavement instead of allowing roads to disintegrate into pothole-filled corridors of cracked asphalt is cheaper in the long run. As an example, rebuilding 4.8 miles of Countryway Boulevard in northwest Hillsborough carried a cost of $1.8 million. If the county could have done a proactive resurfacing, the price would have dropped by more than half to $835,000, said Assistant County Administrator John Lyons.

But without an increased financial commitment, the county’s roads will worsen, administrators said. Currently, 17 percent percent of the 2,540 miles of major roads are considered in poor or very poor condition, with 1 percent categorized as failing. If the county maintains the same $61.5 million allocation for the next decade, the rate of highway deterioration grows exponentially. At the end of the 10 years,10 percent of the major roads will be considered failing, and 55 percent will be categorized as poor or very poor.

“It doesn’t catch us up … we are far ahead of where we are now, but we’re still in the hole 10 years from now after $700 million,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith.

The current budget proposals call for the repair dollars to come from fuel taxes. But, a five-cent local gas tax could produce $172 million over the next 10 years. And if voters approve the proposed transportation surtax on the 2022 ballot, the county’s share of that penny-on-the-dollar sales tax is projected to be $980 million over 10 years.

Both Commissioners Kimberly Overman and Smith said the county should rethink its policy of accepting maintenance responsibility for privately built subdivision roads that do not connect to the county’s road network in more than one location.

Commissioner Stacy White also said he supported the idea, but cautioned that it could lead to a proliferation of gated communities prohibiting public use of the roads.

“It’s kind of funny that we call roads assets. I realize they are. But, the moment we take possession, they become liabilities,” said Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp.

Related: Hillsborough commissioners wonder: How do we pay for transportation

It is the second time since January that commissioners have been briefed on transportation funding shortfalls. Aside from the too few dollars for maintenance, the county is pledging sales tax dollars to float a $190 million bond issue intended for improvements to reduce congestion and bolster safety. Despite the borrowing, the county still faces a $287 million shortfall in its five-year capital improvement program for transportation.

The commission plans a third transportation workshop next month.