Here’s how Hillsborough would spend its transportation tax, if it could

Local governments have plans for $527 million in projects. But the Florida Supreme Court would need to clear the way.
Cars back up at a Tampa intersection last October, not long before Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. This week, local officials detailed how the money would be spent, if the tax survives a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court.
Cars back up at a Tampa intersection last October, not long before Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. This week, local officials detailed how the money would be spent, if the tax survives a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. [ URSO, CHRIS | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 23, 2019

TAMPA — Local officials know exactly how they would spend the proceeds from Hillsborough County’s new transportation tax, providing the Florida Supreme Court lets them do it.

Staff from the county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City have drawn up extensive lists of projects they intend to work on over the next year. The lists, presented Monday night to an independent oversight committee, offered the fullest picture yet of what the tax — an extra penny on the dollar — will pay for in Hillsborough.

RELATED: Florida Supreme Court to decide future of Hillsborough’s transportation tax

“This is very transformative,” Tampa’s Director of Transportation Jean Duncan told the committee, which was created to help guide how the tax is spent. “This is just the first year of the 30-year tax. If you can imagine 30 years from now, it’s going to be like the Jetsons. It’s going to be wonderful.”

Among the big ticket items:

  • $34.9 million to develop and construct enhanced crosswalks, bike paths, sidewalks and other features along 32 streets throughout the county. This is part of the “complete streets” initiative — a nationwide effort to make roads safer for cars, bikes and pedestrians. In Tampa, the largest amounts would be spent on Twiggs Street, 22nd Street and New Tampa Boulevard.
  • $7.4 million to design plans for a more modern Tampa streetcar and extend it to Palm Avenue — and to study additional expansion to Seminole Heights or other locations.
  • $4.8 million to resurface roads in five neighborhoods: North Bon Air, North Tampa, Terrace Park, University Square and West Shore Palms.
  • $8.2 million to rehabilitate the Brorein and Cass street bridges.
  • $5.5 million to restore bus routes that the county’s transit agency cut two years ago. The money also would increase frequency on routes along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, 22nd Street, 30th Street, Columbus Drive, in South County and between Westshore and the University of South Florida.
  • $41.2 million to buy 66 electric and compressed natural gas buses and 10 vans for the county’s transit agency.
  • $29.3 million to develop changes to 25 intersections throughout the county, including adding and lengthening turn lanes, constructing medians, syncing traffic signals, and adding options for bikes and pedestrians. Intersections include Bloomingdale Avenue and Pearson Road, Habana and Sligh avenues, Lumsden and Valrico roads, and County Road 39 and Lithia Pinecrest Road.
  • $19.8 million to develop plans for additional lanes to Gibsonton Drive, Lutz Lake Fern Road, Orient Road and Sligh Avenue.

The lists from the four local governments and the transit agency total about $527 million worth of projects for 2020. The total is higher than normal because each agency is looking to spend money collected over close to a two-year period, starting when the tax went into effect on Jan. 1 and spanning through next year.

RELATED: Hillsborough restores its spending plan for transportation tax

The County Clerk has received and dispersed about $144 million in revenue so far. The county’s transit agency is awarded the largest share, with 45 percent going to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, or about $57 million to date.

The rest is split among the county, three cities and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

But the plans for that money could be disrupted if the state Supreme Court agrees with legal arguments brought by County Commissioner Stacy White and Hillsborough resident Bob Emerson.

White and Emerson challenged the legality of the tax almost immediately after voters approved the increase in November. A circuit court judge ruled this summer that parts of the charter amendment dictating how the tax revenue was to be spent were unconstitutional, but he upheld the tax itself.

RELATED: Judge: Hillsborough’s transportation tax is legal, but spending allocations and oversight committee are not

The plaintiffs appealed, and the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in February.

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County commissioners have since reinstated voter-approved spending guidelines for the money. But even members of the oversight committee are unsure about what the revenue can and can’t be spent on, particularly when it comes to new lanes.

“I would love to get an answer on how much (can go to) lane widening,” committee member Dustin Lemke said during Monday’s meeting.

Board members Manuel Menendez and Ray Chiaramonte agreed, asking attorneys to provide more clarity.

Duncan and Chief Assistant County Attorney Sam Hamilton told board members that 15 percent of the sales tax revenue could be spent on additional traffic lanes.

The oversight committee’s role is also a matter in the Supreme Court case.

Under the measure approved by voters, the panel’s job is to review each agency’s wish list and determine whether the projects are allowed under the charter amendment. But the circuit judge’s ruling this summer stripped the committee of its ability to withhold money from any projects that don’t pass muster.