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  1. Transportation

Advocates unveil ideas for better Tampa Bay area transit

Published Jan. 31, 2014

TAMPA — The beauty of the name of Connect Tampa Bay's proposal, executive director Kevin Thurman explained, is its simplicity. That name? Go Hillsborough.

"Don't stop, don't go slow," Thurman said. "Just go."

Once you get past the name, though, it gets a little more complicated.

New rail transit (with 27 to 37 miles of tracks), advanced traffic signalization installed across the county, new bus toll lanes (which bypass intersections for buses and other drivers who pay tolls), lots of new biking/walking trails and ferry service were among the highlights of a proposal the transit advocacy group unveiled Thursday night.

Thurman and several other transit-minded people formed Connect Tampa Bay a year ago. The group's leadership took ideas from months of meetings with different community organizations across the county and a survey of Connect Tampa Bay's members to form the proposals they discussed with a crowd of about 30 people Thursday night at the Tampa Museum of Art.

Implementing Go Hillsborough would cost about $337 million per year, Thurman said. The county spends about $157 million per year on transportation now, from sources including property, sales and gas taxes. The additional money, Thurman said, would come from a new 1-cent sales tax, federal and state grants, and some private investment.

Thurman and the group's leaders stopped short of calling for a new county referendum on a sales tax hike to pay for their transportation ideas, but the necessity of a new tax is acknowledged in their plans.

Thurman and his fellow Connect Tampa Bay board members held Thursday's meeting to solicit feedback from other members, and to ask them to take the ideas to other community groups for input.

County commissioners have been meeting for about nine months with the mayors of Hillsborough's three cities and transportation agency heads to discuss needs. So far, they have coalesced only around prioritizing transportation projects that would spur job creation.

They have not started talking about specific projects, or whether to focus on rail, roads or other means of transport.

Thurman and other advocates have at times expressed frustration with the slow pace of those talks. Thursday's presentation appeared at least partly aimed at creating momentum for action.

Connect Tampa Bay members say they'd also like to see some of their ideas incorporated.

"This is the beginning of a conversation," said board member Brian Willis.

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or whobson@tampabay.com.

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