Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's 2010 All Over Again

In short notice, the Hillsborough Transportation Economic Development (TED) also known as the Policy Leadership Group (PLG) released their plans today at County Center. The several billion dollar plan, such as it is, is posted here.

It seemed to be of a rush, since everyone was expecting some grand fanfare on the announcement on the TED/PLG workings over the past year or so. So much for anticipation. County Administrator Mike Merrill,  invited the media to brief them on the plan. Apparently, he publicized the plan before it was scheduled to be presented to the TED/PLG at the August 12 meeting.

Were they ready? It seemed a bit contrived and rushed to release this much awaited plan in a conference room.  Especially since our very recent conversations at County Center with those who would know confirmed the plan would be released on August 12.  Or perhaps a transit advocacy group was leaked the plans and made a public records request, forcing the TED/PLG to release the plan prematurely?

Of the media that covered the unveiling, Mitch Perry at Creative Loafing had the most detail as of this writing.  He wrote
If the referendum were to pass, it would raise $6.1 billion over 30 years time, or "less than 50 cents a day," says the narrator in a short video produced by county staff that will be distributed to the public. (A second, lengthier video was also presented.) County Administrator Mike Merrill emphasized that the extensive list of transit and non-transit needs are proposals and not the final end product. That will come after the draft plan is circulated throughout the community later this year.

When asked if there was a grand financial total for all of the projects listed in the plan, Hillsborough County Chief Development & Infrastructure Services Administrator Lucia Garsys said the total for non-transit projects would be at $4.3 billion. She said she could not be so specific about the transit projects, instead giving an estimate of somewhere between $3.1 and $5.7 billion, not counting receiving grants or funding from other sources.

Merrill acknowledged that those combined totals exceed the $6.1 billion that the penny sales tax would generate, which is why the County would hope to receive additional funds from revenues generated by the projects or grants.
Let's be clear, this is still in the draft, feel good, "I have a dream" stage, that includes some planning cost estimates.  The planners will be seeking public input for refinements, prioritization, fiscal sanity... and hopefully realism.

We did the math, and confirmed the $4.3 billion for non-transit (that includes roads, sidewalks, bike trails, complete streets, street reconfiguration, etc.), as well as the $3.1 and $5.7 billion numbers above.

Missing in the media coverage was the estimated (recurring) operational costs, which average around $150 million per year.

Over a 30 year period, this adds up to $11.7 to $14.7 billion for capital and operational expenses.

We can pay for it!
The TED/PLG is proposing to pay for this with a 14% sales tax increase in Hillsborough County. Echoes of 2010.  This is estimated to raise about $6.1 billion over 30 years.  This is expected to be a ballot referendum in 2016.

If we're lucky, the $6.1 billion covers half the proposed the costs over 30 years.  This results in what is known in mixed audiences as a "shortfall". Otherwise known as "Oh crap!"

Who covers the shortfall?  The TED proposal will be looking for the Feds and State government to cover.  As we've written, good luck with that.

Regarding the plan, its hedging their bets, proposes something for everyone, all about "choice", with all transportation modes except jetpacks and flying cars covered.  Something for everyone to vote for!

The plan includes the proposal to take over HART and position them as the central planner for transportation in Hillsborough, growing HART's budget form $86 million to about $5 billion.  All managed by elected officials on the reconstituted HART Board.

Katharine Eagan, HART Interim CEO, was quoted by the Times
"If we're going to be serious and move forward with a transit plan,'' interim HART chief operating officer Katharine Egan said at the briefing, "we need a little more love."
Compared to $86 million, $5 billion is a lot to love.

The plan avoids making hard decisions. Yet stereotypical of the modern central planner, the plan has recurring themes around Transit Oriented Development (more retail and restaurants... as if we don't have enough?!) to bicycle commuting, to complete streets, nature trails, urban trails, to walkable communities.

According to Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, "It's as close to perfect as you can get."

What's missing?

Ridership estimates.  Where the 600,000 people expected to move to Hillsborough by 2040 expected to live.  New residents mode preferred mode of transportation. Autonomous vehicles. Horse and buggy. Ride share. Deregulation. Private services. Simplifying the oversight from the dozen or so agencies that get to weigh in on transportation projects in Hillsborough. Camels. Replacement costs.

The 1/2 cent Community Investment Tax is briefly mentioned... that they spent it all, while we are still paying until 2026 yet receiving little benefit.

We are now expected to trust them with a 1 cent sales tax over 30 year to  raise $6.1 billion after they blew out the CIT? The 1 cent sales tax increase that will cover maybe 1/2 of their plan?  They'll politely ask the Feds and our state government to cover the shortfall? Please, may I? Really?

It's 2010 all over again.

While the plan mentions rails solutions as part of improving transit, it does not commit to them.  That's a bit of the glass half full or empty.  The better plan to improve transit would be to utilize lower cost, more flexible bus solutions, and if, and only if, there are dramatic increase in transit utilization, should we consider rail in the future.

For example, the FDOT plans I-275 Express lanes between the Howard Frankland Bridge and downtown Tampa. The TED plan expects enough room to add premium transit, either a light rail or a BRT.  Those lanes will also connect to the Howard Frankland Bridge.  If we want reliable transit connecting across the bay, only bus with managed tool lanes spanning the HFB and the I-275 Express should be considered.  The managed toll lanes shared with vehicles can serve as a hurricane evacuation route for Pinellas, as rail will shut down with moderate winds, and BRT from Pinellas can connect directly to downtown Tampa without any transfer to a rail at the planned Westshore Regional Multi-Modal Center.

Yet they had difficulty committing to common sense.

2010 Light Rail Tax vote in Hillsborough
It's 2010 all over again.

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