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  1. Transportation

Hillsborough announces time line for transportation plan

TAMPA — Hillsborough leaders expect to have a countywide transportation plan outlined by April, with funding sources identified by September.

George Walton, senior vice president for the national consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, unveiled a time line Wednesday to a transportation group made up of county commissioners and local mayors.

The county hired the consulting firm in October to help develop a transportation plan and handle public outreach, including launching a website, making presentations, holding public meetings and producing other materials.

The firm will host a series of public meetings beginning in February to solicit feedback and input from community members. The focus will narrow as the meetings progress, moving from general questions about transportation needs to what modes and routes will provide optimum service.

"The more we hear, the greater the opportunity to listen and to engage and bring those thoughts and comments into the overall plan," Walton said.

The schedule Walton presented included 28 public meetings. But after a discussion in which several commissioners voiced concerns that their constituents were not being properly represented, the group directed Parsons Brinckerhoff to add 16 meetings to the list.

"We're going to have to look at having more of these public engagement meetings throughout Hillsborough County, because if we don't, we're going to fail again," said County Commissioner Les Miller, referencing the failed 2010 ballot initiative to increase funding for transportation.

The county is paying Parsons Brinckerhoff nearly $900,000 to develop the transportation plan. While $500,000 of that was previously approved, it was unclear where the rest would come from.

County Administrator Mike Merrill told the group Wednesday that an additional $500,000 could come from money remaining from a joint county and city project to replace finance and human resources software systems.

The cost for the additional meetings that commissioners requested could also come from that excess $500,000, Merrill said.

Though Parsons Brinckerhoff had spent considerable time selecting locations for the public meetings, Merrill said he wasn't surprised that the commissioners asked for more.

"They know their constituents better than I do, and certainly better than Parsons does," Merrill said.

The goal, Merrill said, is to have a specific plan and a way to fund it by fall so that officials have a year to build momentum for a 2016 referendum in which the county could ask voters to approve an extra sales tax for transportation. Similar measures failed in Pinellas and Polk counties in 2014 and in Hillsborough in 2010.

"Failure is not an option here," Commissioner Sandy Murman said. "We have to cover every single base."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.

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