How do you spend $570 million for transportation? Hillsborough County has ideas

Commissioners must send a project list to Tallahassee for the unspent sales tax dollars.
A proposed spending plan for transportation projects in Hillsborough County is topped by $130 million to pave 680 miles of roads.
A proposed spending plan for transportation projects in Hillsborough County is topped by $130 million to pave 680 miles of roads.
Published Jan. 24|Updated Jan. 24

If state lawmakers refund nearly $570 million for transportation projects in Hillsborough County, commissioners want to be ready to spend it.

The ideas include paving roads, repairing sidewalks, rebuilding intersections, replacing bridges and building bicycle and pedestrian trails.

Missing from suggestions? Money for transit projects like the proposed ferry route between Ruskin and MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa or an earmark for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority beyond improving pedestrian access at six bus stops.

The preliminary wish list, prepared by county staff and scheduled to be discussed in a commission workshop Wednesday afternoon, comes at the direction of the Florida Legislature. State lawmakers now control the $569.7 million escrowed from a voter-approved 1 percent sales tax for transportation that was in effect for 26 months. Collections stopped after the Florida Supreme Court ruled the tax unconstitutional nearly two years ago.

The state directed the county to send its spending suggestions to Tallahassee by next month. Commissioners are expected to finalize their list Feb. 15. The suggestion list, so far, includes:

  • $130 million to pave 680 miles of roads
  • $40 million to repair 300,000 linear feet of sidewalks
  • $56 million to repair 40 bridges and replace 10 others.
  • $124 million for nine intersection projects
  • $66 million to construct 20 miles of trails.
  • $57 million for safety projects, including better walking routes to 22 schools
  • $116 million for congestion relief.

Much of that congestion relief allocation is for design work or right of way purchases for seven roads. However, $32 million would complete construction of Big Bend Road and $25 million would be used for construction projects near the University of South Florida.

Notably, the potential spending includes $10 million to design the widening of Lithia-Pinecrest Road, but does not include construction dollars for the project. Commissioner Michael Owen and his predecessor, former Commissioner Stacy White — whose legal challenge led to the Florida Supreme Court voiding the tax — both made Lithia-Pinecrest Road a priority. The unfunded construction is estimated at $200 million.

Related: Judge rejects class action suit over Hillsborough transportation tax

Some suggestions follow previously set priorities. Last year, the county allocated $40 million for road paving and $20 million for sidewalk repairs from its share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

The total list of options amounts to $589 million. The county’s share of the total spending could be about $424 million if the money is divided according to the state sales tax revenue sharing formula. Under that scenario, the city of Tampa would get $124.2 million while Plant City would receive $12.7 million and Temple Terrace, $8.57 million.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she had not conversed with county officials on how to spend the money, but she said the city should be entitled to a greater share because the allocation should not be based solely on population.

“I would like to factor in the ingress egress every day too, because we have a million people coming in and out of our city each and every day utilizing those roadways,” Castor said Tuesday during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

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Hillsborough Commissioner Joshua Wostal said he thought it was important for the county to focus on safety projects.

“Sixty-six million (dollars), immediately, for me, is a no-go on the trails. We have serious safety infrastructure needs that have to be prioritized above that,” said Wostal.

But, he also noted the final authority rests with the Legislature.

“It could all be an exercise in futility for all we know,” he said.

Staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report.