1. Opinion

Henderson: Exotic ideas like monorail may help solve Hillsborough transportation woes

Um, politicians?

Yeah, I'm talking to you.

I hope you were paying attention Tuesday during the election primaries because voters screamed they have had enough. You, dear elected officials, are on the clock to boldly go where no county commission here has gone before.


The people, a.k.a. your bosses, ordered you to seriously address Hillsborough's chronic (and getting worse) transportation problems.

There should be no shortage of ideas, either.

Ed Turanchik's vaunted commuter ferry idea linking Tampa and St. Petersburg begins a six-month trial in November. I'm glad to see that. Ferries can work in a location like ours.

I also recently had a chat with Tom Hall about all that. He is the co-founder of the giant Tucker/Hall public relations firm, and despite the critics — or maybe because of them — he isn't afraid to think big. We need more of that.

He talked about a monorail system that would link downtown Tampa to St. Petersburg, Brandon, USF, south and east Hillsborough, and so on.

"We will never solve our problems if we don't get people out of their cars," he said.

We interrupt this column to deliver paper bags to some of the more excitable readers, who I am certain now are getting ready to hyperventilate. You know the ones I mean.

I get Hall's point, though. Since the demise of "Go Hillsborough" — the ambitious but flawed proposal for a transportation sales tax referendum — nothing should be off the table.

It is time to consider everything — one rail, two rails, a whole bunch of buses and, yes, extra roadways.

That includes the Florida Department of Transportation's $6 billion TBX plan, which I don't particularly like because of the proposed express toll lanes that most folks won't be able to afford. Parts of the plan might work, though.

It's worth noting that Hall isn't alone in his interest in monorails. Feasibility studies are under way in three suburban cities around Atlanta to see if they would work. Monorails are common throughout China and other nations.

Could it work in Tampa? It is worth at least investigating — maybe with a private developer.

I think that's what voters were saying, too. They were saying we need people in charge willing to tune out the noise from those who take joy in thinking small and shouting what can't be done.

That's a big reason I believe Democrat Pat Kemp romped over a strong field of candidates to win her District 6 county commission primary. She made transportation the centerpiece of her campaign. One of her primary opponents, Brian Willis, spoke often on that subject, too.

Tim Schock, her Republican opponent in the November general election, routed longtime pol Jim Norman in the primary. While Norman's scandal-plagued past was a big factor, I think he was also hurt by his record on the commission of voting for unchecked development that has contributed to the mess we see today.

Voters are sick of 2-mile trips to the store that can take 20 minutes each way. I also think leaders underestimate how willing people are to pay for a solution beyond building more roads — which, by the way, aren't free.

They can cost hundreds of millions to build and they have to be maintained.

Hillsborough will keep growing. We all know that.

Growth means more houses and longer commutes.

Longer commutes mean more traffic.

So far, the County Commission has tried to get by with Band-Aids that will never stretch far enough. Even FDOT concedes that most of the roads it builds are outdated before they open.

The time for waffling is over.

Voters understand that. They sent that message. Now it's time to see if the people they elected were listening.