1. Transportation

Hillsborough commission candidates want say in $600 million transportation spending plan

Pat Kemp is incensed that the plan omits new transit.
Pat Kemp is incensed that the plan omits new transit.
Published Oct. 16, 2016

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners are expected to decide next week how to spend the $600 million they set aside for transportation projects over the next 10 years.

"It's time to get started," Commissioner Al Higginbotham said.

But not everyone is happy.

The two candidates running for the open District 6 commission seat think their potential colleagues should wait until after the election before finalizing a blueprint.

"I'm stunned that they would try to move forward with such a plan with a lame-duck County Commission," said Democrat Pat Kemp.

Republican Tim Schock, her opponent, agreed.

"One of the biggest issues in the race is transportation," he said, "so I would absolutely want to have some input into what that's going to look like."

Both also thought the public should have more time to view the plan before a vote is taken. County staff unveiled the list of recommended projects Friday.

"That's been a big deal with these proposals in the first place," Schock said. "It was a trust issue."

But the man they're hoping to replace, outgoing Commissioner Kevin Beckner, disagreed. The project list is based on one that commissioners approved unanimously back when the board was still considering a referendum to raise the sales tax by a half-cent. It doesn't need another round of vetting, he said.

"We spent 3½ years putting together this plan," Beckner said. "We had over 100 community meetings. So I think there was a lot of community input into this plan."

The spending list, which totals $763 million after adding in new mobility fees, is heavily focused on road work. It includes:

• $123 million for safety projects such as intersection upgrades and new signals.

• $346 million for congestion relief, including construction of an overpass over Interstate 75 to connect U.S. 41 and U.S. 301, widening Big Bend Road and enhancing E 131st Avenue near the University of South Florida with pedestrian, bike and transit amenities.

• $291 million for resurfacing streets and maintaining rights of way.

Kemp was incensed it doesn't include any new transit. There's also very little money in the proposal for the city of Tampa.

Of the $473 million set aside for safety and congestion improvements, only $3.8 million will be spent inside city boundaries.

"There's no way it's responsible to do it," she said. "They've never given a chance for people who want to see a transit future to speak to this."

County administrator Mike Merrill said Tampa residents will benefit from many of the major road projects planned for unincorporated Hillsborough. The county isn't going to spend money on city roads it doesn't own or for transit projects Tampa should pay for on its own, he said.

Instead, priority will be given to the greatest need, Merrill said.

"The sooner we get them started, the sooner we get them finished," he said. "It was under this board's watch that all this work was done, and a new commissioner that is seated will have opportunities to propose changes, if they want."

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Higginbotham said Tampa can ask the county for money if it has a project that needs funding.

Beckner, a transit supporter, knew that this is mostly a roadwork plan. He said the money being set aside isn't enough to support an expansion of bus service or to invest in rail. Instead, the new commissioner, whoever that is, will be part of a discussion for how to pay for transit in the future.

"This conversation has to continue," Beckner said. "This is a mere drop in the bucket of what we need to fix our transportation systems."

Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.


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