Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fix Our Roads First!

Today's Tampa Tribune includes a Commentary from one of our local readers, Ken Roberts, who is active in our community.  Below is Ken's column which was published in its entirety.

Neglecting our roads

Transportation in Hillsborough County involves an extensive system of roads and automobiles and other vehicles augmented by bus service. The capacity and condition of the roads are fundamental to the health of the overall system. But it’s not being kept up. The feds and the state are doing the work needed on their roads to keep pace. But the county is not.
According to the Metropolitan Planning Organization, there currently is a backlog of road improvements just north of $5 billion. The MPO did a post-referendum survey three years ago. The number one priority of the people? Fix the roads. Yet going on three years later, the board of County Commissioners has budgeted less than $20 million for road capital improvements over the next two years.
In a $6 billion budget ($3 billion a year over two years), the foundation of the system that allows us to get from one place to another gets allocated less than $20 million? That is 0.004 percent of the current backlog of road work, and it’s for two years of work! Chisel that on a piece of granite and toss it in your eye, and you would never feel it.
We are told we must have a modern transit system in order to compete. Putting aside the efficacy of various competing modes of transportation, a modern transit system, superimposed on top of our neglected network of over-capacity roads, will result in a system that is still congested, but costs a lot more. It can’t be efficient or effective. There’s no chance. Of what use is a multibillion-dollar train if you can’t get out of your neighborhood and get to the station?
Transportation is a system — a system that operates on a foundation of roads that are way over capacity right now. And we have not been doing anything about that for some time. A careful reading of the county’s level of service report reveals that every day, citizens of this county take 1.5 million trips on roads that are rated “F.” That’s the worst rating possible.
Proponents of rail, an interesting coalition of business and developers, environmentalists and “millennials,” have been conducting pep rallies and bugging the commissioners, demanding everything. And they want it all now.
HART has a 10-year transit plan that supports a few more metro rapid bus lines like the successful first one from downtown to the USF area. It’s a good plan, but what about the foundation? What about the roads? This is a system, remember? It’s like a chain. It will only be as strong as its weakest link. If we build a modern transportation high-rise on the grossly overloaded foundation of our current road system, it will collapse. It’s a sure thing.
So as we rush headlong after mounds of lovely federal dollars, we need to be mindful of the fundamental reality, which is this: After we spend all our money, and all we can borrow and get from the state and take from our fellow Americans (aided and abetted by the federal government), commissioners will still be facing the fundamental reality that the roads will have to be fixed for it all to work. Because transportation is a system, and our roads are the foundation of that.
Ken Roberts is a retired manufacturing company president and member of Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation. He lives in Apollo Beach.
Ken's point that roads is our top transportation priority ties back to this MPO survey he mentions which was done after the 2010 rail referendum was defeated.
MPO Survey
We will note too that our local infrastructure tax, the half-cent Community Investment Tax (CIT) was to be used for road improvements over the 30 year term of the tax which expires in 2026. That money was borrowed against and all spent by 2007 so there is no CIT tax money available today for roads or anything else.

Today we have so many F-rated roads.  
F-rated roads in Hillsborough
We see the Feds and the State doing their part as they improve the major arteries in our county. Now the county needs to step up. 

Focus on fixing our roads -  the top transportation priority that benefits us all.

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