Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Work on Hillsborough transit plan now

There still is plenty to do while the sheriff investigates the legality of the Go Hillsborough consulting contracts. Supporters should focus their efforts in the coming weeks on strengthening the transit package and putting new growth measures in place to curb urban sprawl over the long term.
There still is plenty to do while the sheriff investigates the legality of the Go Hillsborough consulting contracts. Supporters should focus their efforts in the coming weeks on strengthening the transit package and putting new growth measures in place to curb urban sprawl over the long term.
Published Nov. 27, 2015

Hillsborough County is right to wait on a report by Sheriff David Gee before deciding whether to move ahead on Go Hillsborough, the transportation package that could go to the voters in 2016. But there still is plenty to do while the sheriff investigates the legality of the Go Hillsborough consulting contracts. Supporters should focus their efforts in the coming weeks on strengthening the transit package and putting new growth measures in place to curb urban sprawl over the long term.

Gee is examining whether the county broke the law or its own procurement rules in awarding Go Hillsborough contracts to well-connected consultants. But with that report not expected before January, the county should use the time to fill in the blanks on exactly how and when Go Hillsborough would improve transportation options across the region. Most of the attention in the last four months has been on the revenue side — whether to fund Go Hillsborough through a sales tax, whether the increase should be a half-cent or a full penny, or whether a mix of other taxes and fees would be preferable. Gee's ongoing investigation has put this debate on hold; county commissioners won't discuss putting a tax on the ballot until after the sheriff submits his findings.

But now it's time to pay attention to the other major component of Go Hillsborough: the work plan. County commissioners already have signaled they won't support more than a half-penny sales tax, which would generate only one-third to one-fourth the money the county will need to meet its transportation needs over the next 30 years.

With an underperforming tax plan on the table, the county needs to rework the project list to get more for the money. That means committing more than 25 percent of the tax to HART, the county's mass transit agency, and retooling road budgets to rely more on higher gas taxes. The sales tax increase needs to fund entirely new transit options, such as rail and rapid bus lines. The county also needs to better prioritize its plans for express bus service. Promising the world to the suburbs might provide commissioners political cover. But a cash-strapped bus system needs to spend its few resources in dense, urban neighborhoods where ridership is already high.

Go Hillsborough also needs to take shape as a visual package. The project list, while detailed, has a small-bore approach. It doesn't show how new spending would make commuting more convenient, reliable, efficient or affordable. The county needs to pair these improvements to land-use changes so Hillsborough can get ahead of this problem in the future. And for all the talk about how Tampa Bay is one region, Go Hillsborough is virtually silent on connecting the county with anyone else.

The question of how to fund Go Hillsborough is important and remains unsettled. But the work plan needs to be smart and muscular for any tax referendum to be successful. Supporters need to start laying a vision for how the transit tax could transform the community. Unless the county builds some excitement, a clean bill of health from the sheriff might not be enough to save a transportation plan that's modest by design.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge