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  1. Opinion

Keep moving forward to meet Hillsborough’s transportation challenges | Column

The community will remain united on improving transportation even if the Florida Supreme Court overturns a one-cent tax approved by voters, the leaders of that effort write.

Hillsborough County voters accomplished a feat in 2018 that eluded previous generations. We addressed our community’s transportation crisis urgently and courageously.

Our campaign did not arise spontaneously; it built upon decades of organization and attempts at fixing something so obviously broken. Like other winning efforts around the country, it grew from prior campaigns that may have fallen short at the ballot box but planted the seeds of victory. For the first time in Florida history, citizens took advantage of a state law that allows a local transportation tax to be raised by a county charter amendment. It took more than 75,000 petitions, more than 282,000 votes and a broad coalition to find success.

Tyler Hudson [ EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Edmund D. Fountain ]

What has followed the election has been messy, complicated and hard fought. In other words: progress. Despite the challenges, there has never been a time that this community, from City Hall to County Center and throughout every neighborhood, has shown such incredible unity and determination to move together toward a better future.

Right now, a vocal few are using a lawsuit to attempt a Tallahassee take-back of your tax dollars. They are hoping the Florida Supreme Court overturns the referendum results and invalidates the tax. Using litigation to initiate a political do-over is not new in Florida, and the consequences of this delay could not be more serious. Each day the All for Transportation funding remains uncertain, so does the future of our transportation system and our community.

Each day, traffic congestion worsens and the amount of time we spend in our cars increases. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, the Tampa Bay workforce spends more than 1.2 million hours commuting - nearly 30 percent higher than a decade ago when Hillsborough County first attempted to secure a local funding source for transportation. In the 15 months since the election, new residents continue to arrive. Those new residents have brought more than moving trucks - they have also brought their cars to our already strained roadways.

Christina Barker [ Handout ]

Of course, you do not need to read this here. You see it every day.

What might be harder to see is the clear line between delayed transportation investment and lives lost. In 2019, more than 200 people died in traffic-related crashes on Hillsborough County roadways. The data is clear and undeniable: the All for Transportation funding that voters overwhelmingly supported will save lives by funding crosswalks, sidewalks and safety improvements in every single neighborhood.

Each day we do nothing, we diminish our collective strength. A report recently released by the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Partnership revealed that access to transit options reduces poverty and income inequality, while enhancing economic mobility. Simply put, better transportation means a stronger economy and stronger community.

Rena Frazier [ Provided by Rena Frazier ]

We are often asked what happens if the Florida Supreme Court strikes down the transportation tax. Fortunately, there is no legal precedent for such drastic judicial activism, which would reverse the outcome of the 2018 election. Yet, in a worst case scenario where the Hillsborough County referendum is defeated from distant Tallahassee, an even worse outcome is possible: defeatism itself.

Change is rarely welcomed with open arms by those who have built their legacy on the status quo. Change rarely comes easy or arises without setbacks. At times, this process leaves citizens feeling powerless when we are anything but. Voters made a choice 15 months ago. They chose to make use of the power we have as citizens and be a community that confronts our most pressing challenges with bold action.

In the coming months, we will need to continue to make that choice together. We will make that choice when we search for new leaders at HART. We will make that choice as we advocate for the transportation priorities that matter to us. And we will make that choice again at the ballot box, if necessary, to recommit to this critical transportation investment.

For Hillsborough County to become the safer and better connected community that we aspire to be, we all must remain unyielding and uncompromising in our commitment to get it done.

As our transportation problem worsens, our demand for positive change is more important today than it was on Election Day in 2018. We cannot revert to the rampant passivism and complacency that got us here. There is only one direction: forward.

Tyler Hudson, Christina Barker, and Rena Frazier, are founders of All for Transportation, the citizen-led effort that successfully placed and passed the 2018 Hillsborough County transportation referendum.

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