TAMPA — Three months of public meetings aimed at developing a plan to fix jam-packed roads and improve limited transit offerings have come to an end, and now consultants have to reconcile transportation priorities that often vary with where commuters live.
Hillsborough County paid Parsons Brinckerhoff about $1 million to organize outreach and put together a detailed transportation plan, which it will present to local leaders on June 11 at the policy leadership group meeting. County commissioners will then have to decide whether they want to put a referendum on the 2016 ballot and, if so, what sort of tax they would ask voters to approve.
"I think the community outreach has been very successful," said George Walton, senior vice president of the national consulting firm. "It's an opportunity for people to come, listen, learn and engage in the overall process."
The series included 32 in-person meetings that drew a total of nearly 2,000 attendees, while thousands of others dialed in to four town hall teleconferences. Local leaders expressed concern last month that consultants hadn't reached enough people to build the consensus needed for a widely supported plan.
"There's a lot of people who don't even know what this is," Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura said at an April meeting. "There's not a big buzz."
In the last two rounds of meetings, a majority of people who filled out surveys about the options to pay for the plan were most supportive of a 1-cent sales tax — the same proposed tax that failed to gather a majority of votes in Pinellas and Polk in 2014 and Hillsborough in 2010.
People who filled out surveys said this type of tax "raises the most money" and "allows for everyone, including tourists, to pay for it."
Other options include a property tax, gas tax or smaller sales tax. Each of these comes with its own caveats. For instance, a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax raises $25 million annually, while a sales tax brings in $200 million per year. Property tax, the least-supported option, puts the burden solely on property owners.
Six people gathered around a table Monday in Town 'N Country to discuss with facilitators what they thought an ideal transportation plan would look like.
Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff prompted the participants on specifically what they wanted from local transit.
"With a bus, I'd be sitting in the same traffic and hitting the same lights as I do in my car," said Lynn Ravens, 33, of Town 'N Country.
Others at the table agreed. None relies on transit, so for them to use it, they said there would have to be sizable time and efficiency benefits.
"What you're both talking about is transit with a dedicated route," Clifford said.
While several nodded their heads, others pushed back.
"Part of the problem I have with a light-rail system is that it's a fixed route," said Barbara Aderhold, who lives near Odessa. "This county is very diverse, with very diverse needs. And how do we pay for it? We can't even maintain what we have."
The tension felt within that group is indicative of conflicts within the county. According to research gathered from previous meetings, those in the northeast and northwest agree that resources need to be spent on both roads and transit. But things are more polarizing for central and south Hillsborough: Those in the center of the county want the focus on transit only, while those in south county clamor for the roads to be fixed first, before anything else.
Throughout the past three months, Parsons Brinckerhoff identified four areas of improvements: bike and pedestrian, maintenance, roads and transit. But the percentage of money devoted to each of those areas remains unseen. Details on selected projects, funding sources and allocation of funds will be presented June 11 at the policy leadership group meeting.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.