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  1. Transportation

Carlton: A mad dash to improve transportation instead of staying stuck

A referendum that would put the question of adding a penny sales tax for transportation to the November ballot in Hillsborough County is close to getting enough signatures. Proponents say the goal is to provide money to reduce traffic jams like this one between the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge and Clearwater Beach. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Jul. 25, 2018

Trying to fix transportation around here is like a recurring bad dream. You keep running, but you never catch up.

Referendums fail. Politicians, terrified of the anti-tax crowd that keeps shouting boondoggle at them, won't do what needs to be done.

So we sit, stuck in traffic.

As Tyler Hudson, Tampa lawyer and a leader of the grassroots push called All for Transportation put it this week: "The time to act was 20 years ago. The second best time to act is today."

Because suddenly, the idea of taking it to the people of Hillsborough County is tantalizingly close. Maybe even reachable.

And who needs politicians?

All for Transportation is in the homestretch with a Friday deadline to collect just short of 49,000 signatures. That's what it would take to put the question of adding a penny sales tax for transportation on the November ballot for voters to decide.

Though the group had mere weeks to push their petitions, nearly 59,000 signatures had been collected by Monday — a sure sign some of us are over going nowhere.

But even this doesn't mean getting the question on the ballot is a done deal. Really, it's too close to call.

Not quite a third of the petitions processed by the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office as of Monday were found not to be valid. So there's still work to do to find citizens who think the people should decide.

It's notable who's already in. Among those donating to this effort are Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik — currently redeveloping a southern swath of downtown Tampa into an entertainment district around Amalie Arena — and philanthropist Frank Morsani. There's also the Tampa Bay Partnership business group and the Coastal Construction Services development firm.

In other words, people and organizations with an interest in improving the place.

Should they get enough signatures by Friday, then it's another mad sprint — this one to educate voters and convince them by Election Day how and why it's worth that penny.

Because upping the sales tax from seven to eight cents on the dollar is not chump change, and voters are understandably leery of being taken for a ride. So the details matter.

That extra penny would raise about $280 million each year over the next 30 years for a wide range of traffic solutions. Forty-five percent would improve our sadly lacking bus service, plus pay for other mass transit. The rest would go to Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, to fix roads, bridges and potholes, for sidewalks, bike lanes and "intelligent" transportation systems to ease congestion.

Okay, forget what I said about not needing politicians.

Leadership by those with an eye toward the future — and not just on their own reelections — could be pretty critical.

And remember, it's a referendum. If the people don't want it, it will not pass.

But getting it on the ballot means they get a say. It means Hillsborough County voters get the chance to move forward, or at least catch up.

You can see the petition, details of the plan and how to sign up at allfortransportation.com.

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