Column: Hillsborough transportation referendum offers generational change

Hillsborough transportation referendum offers generational change
SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times
Looking south on Bell Shoals Road traffic backs up south of  Bloomingdale Avenue in October.
SKIP O'ROURKE | Times Looking south on Bell Shoals Road traffic backs up south of Bloomingdale Avenue in October.
Published November 9

For a generation, Hillsborough County has been trying and failing to meet its growing transportation needs — until now.

On Tuesday, All for Transportation won a hard fought, bold, people-powered campaign. Our initiative came together around a dining room table, qualified for the ballot with 77,000 signed petitions and won with 276,036 votes. This historic achievement was accomplished amid an equally historic level of distrust and division in government. To those who joined us in rising above the fray to do the right thing for Hillsborough County, we are incredibly grateful.

The success of All for Transportation is a testament to the shifts taking place in our community and the demand from voters that our growth over the next 30 years must look different than it has in our past. We came together — grassroots activists, community leaders, the business community and Hillsborough County citizens — to solve our transportation shortcomings.

Now we find ourselves at the outset of a new chapter.

Now we will invest in our critical transportation infrastructure, and we have the potential to set ourselves apart as a model for the region and state. Our elected officials must begin putting this local transportation investment to work in our community. The All for Transportation plan has established our community’s priorities — roads, safety and transit projects — and established dedicated funding sources for each.

For too long, we have excused our failing transportation system and record numbers of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths by pointing to a lack of resources. The success of All for Transportation eliminates that excuse. We have 30 years’ worth of unfunded plans. Now is the time for action. We have plans to connect the major economic centers of Hillsborough County and Tampa and their surrounding neighborhoods. We have plans to resurface roads, computerize traffic lights and add crosswalks and sidewalks where there are none today. We have plans, and now we have funding, too.

Today, several projects can move forward almost immediately: increasing frequency on major bus routes, extending and modernizing the Tampa Streetcar, computerizing traffic lights countywide, completing a network of sidewalks and safe routes to schools, and implementing Vision Zero improvements on our deadly corridors.

Our plan offers something for every person in every neighborhood, and we believe the breadth of this plan separated our success from past, failed efforts. To many of those we heard from during the campaign, a broken sidewalk was more than an unfunded project in a $9 billion backlog - it was a sign that their neighborhood was not part of the success story we read about on the front page of the papers. It was a sign that good things only happen in other places. To honor and respect the will of the voters, the projects implemented as a result of All for Transportation’s passage must be visible and impactful throughout every community across Hillsborough County.

The first opportunity to demonstrate this vital fairness is the composition of the Independent Oversight Committee that will be created as a result of All for Transportation’s passage. This 13 member committee must look like Hillsborough County in all respects, including, gender, race, age, and experience. Anything less than equitable representation will undermine the committee’s ability to protect the Hillsborough County taxpayer.

Additionally, we must create an integrated system that gives people transportation options. The pieces of a successful transportation system must work together and let the people of this community choose how they move around.

Giving people options means more than making Tampa Bay more economically competitive and attractive for corporate relocations. Hillsborough County’s lack of public transportation options disproportionately harms our low-income neighbors, stifling not just their personal economic opportunities but the economic potential of the entire county. When a worker can get a better job, but cannot get to that better job, we all lose out. Mobility, like education, is a great equalizer of opportunity, and an accelerant of economic growth that is both broad and equitable. The days of a one size fits all transportation system are over.

The success of All for Transportation is a reminder that government belongs to each of us, and that positive change will only follow organized demand. Every person who stood up for a better transportation system will be watching their elected leaders in the coming months. Our community’s decision to make this transformative investment should cause all of us to elevate our expectations for what is possible here in Hillsborough County. The people of Hillsborough have made an extraordinary investment. They are demanding extraordinary results.

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

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