Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Transportation - It's not about mobility

Our Hillsborough County Commissioners are at it again.
Most Hillsborough County residents know the county suffers from a poor transportation system and a lagging economy.
Well the average commute time is right at the national average of 30 minutes stated previously by Stuart Rogel, chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership, at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce meeting last summer that folks can get just about anywhere in the county in 30 minutes. Actually, Rogel is wrong. The Hillsborough County average commute time is about 25 minutes.
What if the solution to both problems was intertwined? 
County commissioners decided Tuesday the answer to that question is yes, agreeing to link transportation planning to economic development efforts. Under the county's new strategic plan, road improvements, new bus routes or light-rail lines will be directed toward economic development areas that commissioners hope will spawn high-tech, high-wage jobs.
Emphasis mine.  Exactly where are these "economic development that commissioners hope will spawn..."?  Who gets to decide?

Did you catch that the conversation was not about improved mobility?  It's about development.

The Eye also knows from an attendee at the meeting the commissioner were also wondering if light rail proponents could raise enough money to launch a campaign in both Pinellas and Hillsborough County. Got that?

Also, they are working on a 30 year(!) plan for us.  Think things might change before 2043?
But commissioners also decided they don't want to revamp their transportation strategy in a vacuum.
Please itemize your "new ideas".  Who are they talking to?  Will it be the same as last time?  Sierra Club, Tampa Bay Partnership (and their new front groups), land use attorneys, real estate firms, developers, various local politicians, liberal activists. Anyone but the citizens who have to pay.  How about transportation analysts from Cato other groups that have real studies on transportation alternatives.
So they dispatched County Administrator Mike Merrill to invite participation from the mayors of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, as well as the leaders of the county's bus system and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which handles transportation planning for the county and its three cities. 
"We're not talking about taking over anybody. We're creating a backbone," Merrill said. 
Merrill's discussion with the other leaders will take place in the next two weeks in preparation for the March 20 commission meeting. Mark Sharpe plans to ask the other commissioners at that meeting to support a wide-ranging "conversation" on transportation that will include the public, business leaders, transportation agencies and the county's three cities.
Let's broaden the conversation by including those who do not stand to profit, but will have to pay for it.
Sharpe was the leading voice on the commission in 2010 supporting a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax for road improvements, bus service expansion and a light rail system. Voters rejected the tax by a wide margin. 
Chastened by that defeat, Sharpe said he's not coming into this year's transportation debate with any preconceived notions, such as the need to put a tax on the 2014 ballot. And he thinks the county should concentrate on what it can afford in transportation, such as road and intersection improvements and more buses. 
"We shouldn't be trying to build this grandiose transportation system that's going to break us," he said. 
Why not 2014?  Sharpe stated "If you snooze you're going to lose in transportation."  The sky is falling, yet again.  Just like 2010.  Why delay?  2014 is good enough for Pinellas County. Why not pair up on the momentum with Pinellas.  Think of the money they could save by consolidating PR firms! Could it be that many commissioners will be up for re-election then? Could it be that it will have larger voter turnout than say, 2016, making it harder to revisit "transportation" again?

Can't we be honest here?  It is about a light rail project yet again.  Will they ever learn?

We are not anti-development.  We are for sound economic growth.  Light rail projects have an extremely poor track record of actually improve transportation.  It takes years... decades to develop, will only serve 2 - 4% of the population, and will not reduce transit times, or reduce road utilization.  The developers line up behind rail projects so they can get the economic benefits, while the rest of us pay.

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