It didn’t take long for Hillsborough County commissioners to begin whittling a proposed transportation spending plan of more than $570 million.
In a 45-minute workshop Wednesday, a commission majority indicated they would excise $66 million planned to construct bicycle and pedestrian trails and also follow a recommendation from County Administrator Bonnie Wise to trim $99 million from planned spending on bridge repairs, intersection work and safety projects.
The result is $424 million for the county to spend on transportation with repaving roads, fixing sidewalks and advancing nine road construction projects remaining as top priorities. The cuts allowed the county to recommend sharing $145 million with the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.
For the time being, however, the money isn’t guaranteed. The state directed the county to devise a potential list of transportation projects that could be financed with $569.7 million escrowed from the voided transportation sales tax.
Voters approved the 1% sales tax for transportation in 2018, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in February 2021 on a challenge from former Commissioner Stacy White. He argued the tax was illegal because final spending allocations were not overseen by elected officials. Instead, they were contained in the referendum ballot language.
Circuit court judges also have ruled the state Legislature should determine how the 26 months worth of sales tax collections — plus interest — should be spent. That led to the workshop Wednesday after the state Department of Revenue asked the county for recommended projects.
Initially, county staff proposed a list totaling $589 million to give commissioners options from which to choose. Several immediately chose to cut the money for trails.
“That’s a luxury. We really don’t need that,” said Commissioner Gwen Myers.
But Commission Chairperson Ken Hagan asked for a cost proposal to complete the next segment of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. It’s $9 million, said Wise. Commissioner Pat Kemp suggested including all the trail projects and sending the state a list beyond $424 million so legislators could make their own selections.
She also asked that the list include $25 million for a new maintenance and operation center for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.
Commissioner Michael Owen, meanwhile, wanted construction money set aside to widen Lithia-Pinecrest Road. The list included $10 million for design work, but no construction dollars. It has an estimated cost of $200 million.
“I fully expect I’ll be standing alone in this situation,” Owen said.
The commission is scheduled to vote on its final list on Feb. 15. The ultimate authority, however, rests with state lawmakers.
“I would want them to take what we send them seriously and not throw it out the window, which is a possibility,” Owen said.
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The recommended spending amounts as of Wednesday are:
- $130 million to pave 680 miles of roads.
- $116 million for congestion relief.
- $81 million for intersection projects.
- $40 million to repair 300,000 linear feet of sidewalks.
- $37 million for safety projects, including better walking routes to schools.
- $20 million to repair and replace bridges.
- $124.2 million to the city of Tampa.
- $12.7 million to the city of Temple Terrace.
- $8.57 million to the city of Plant City.