Monday, August 3, 2015

To Toll or not to Toll?

We've noticed a concerted vocal effort lately to stop the expansion and tolling of the interstates in the Tampa Bay area, and across the state of Florida.

We'd like driving and all transportation to be free.  And I want to believe in unicorns and fairy dust.

Neither is going to happen.

From the Orlando Sentinel, there is now a state wide petition movement to require toll roads to be put up for a vote of the public.
A South Florida-based group wants to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot that would give voters the final say over fee increases on Florida's growing network of toll roads, including ones in Orlando.
"We're not anti-toll or getting rid of tolls. We're saying no more tolls without voter approval," said Chris Wills, the volunteer chairman of DRIVE, which stands for "drivers ready to improve, vote and empower."
So far, they have about 12,000 signatures, and will need 700,000 by February 1 to make the 2016 ballot. Even it they get all the signatures, there's no guarantee it will pass with the required 60% super majority.
Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of South Florida, said even if the issue of no tolls without a vote makes the ballot, it still might fail.
Potential opponents, she said, could argue: "Would you rather have a toll or higher gas taxes because we have to fix the roads?"
She also wonders whether people would be passionate enough to really get out and support the drive.
"There are negatives on all sides of this issue," she said.
Perhaps they have a point if Tampa Bay Express (TBX) and other toll roads were to toll existing capacity. But that is not the case. The TBX plan is only for new capacity to be tolled.

They'll get their vote every time they chose to take a toll road or not.

They'll vote with their own money, the ultimate form of democracy.

Did we get to vote when the state of Florida funded $15M a year for Tri-Rail in South Florida? No.

Did we get to vote when the state of Florida funded SunRail in Orlando until 2021? No.

Where were these folks then? They could have saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Locally, groups are organizing to stop the Tampa Bay Express, which includes plans to widen and toll new capacity on I-275 through Tampa Heights.
Speakers from several local community groups organized the town hall meeting to put pressure on the Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organization to stop plans for the Tampa Bay Express project that would widen portions of Interstate 275 with toll lanes.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization will meet Aug. 4, and community organizers expect residents to show up in throngs.

More than 2,000 people already have signed a petition on to remove the project from road plans. At Tuesday’s town hall meeting, activists and businesses owners helped answer residents’ questions about the 175-page expansion plan. Boxes of postcards were covered with messages, and a video camera set up in the back of the hall recorded residents’ complaints to send to public officials. County Commissioner Les Miller’s phone number was read out to the crowd.
We're sympathetic with the planned the demolition that will occur in parts of Seminole Heights. We're far from proponents of the government abuse of eminent domain. However, this has been in the FDOTs plans for years, as the historic church in Tampa Heights sits on land owned by FDOT. They've known this day would come.

Tampa Bay Express project map
The Tampa City Council recently voted to oppose the I-275 expansion.
[T]he City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to ask the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization to withdraw support for funding the FDOT project and to reach out to local legislators, especially state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate's Transportation Committee. It voted to try to make sure it plays an active role in reviewing the project's plans, which were drafted in the mid-1990s. It asked city lawyers to report on June 25 whether the city could challenge the project under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The next MPO meeting is August 4 at 5:30pm in the second floor commission board room at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Get ready to further gum things up in the courts.

Perhaps FDOT is trying to work things out, as FDOT is suggesting they may help pay for transit expansion with TBX.
For the first time Tuesday, the Florida Department of Transportation indicated it may be willing to help pay for expanding express bus service that would run on proposed toll lanes along Interstates 4 and 275.

And with a strong enough commitment from Hillsborough County and its cities, the state also may be willing to help fund more elaborate transit options on the interstates, possibly including light rail, said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for the transportation department’s District 7
The timing is rather interesting as opposition is mounting. Are they trying to trade something here?

The TBX plan does present the opportunity for managed bus toll lanes for express bus transit, shared with automobiles, which will be a win - win for everyone. Light rail will inhibit the project, as it will require a dedicated corridor, even more real estate acquisition and destruction, more residential dislocations, and drive expenses and time up.

We're hopeful the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, FDOT and residents in the affected area can work something out that can be beneficial to all. We have a transportation problem, and we are breaking under the weight of delay after delay.

We wonder where the protests were against the proposed demolition of the North Boulevard homes, which will result in the relocation of 2,000 poor and minority residents, all in the name of Buckhorn's gentrification plans.

Its only those people. It's not my back yard.

Trust me, I understand no one is excited to pay more in tolls, perhaps $8, or even up to $20 a day with congestion pricing by the time TBX gets built. None of this is free, but with tolls, we are at least asking the users to pay their full and fair share. And it is their choice.

As a comparison, if HART today charged its riders their full and fair share to cover operational and maintenance expenses, fares would be about $8 a ride.  Transit is not free either.

What is the toll road opponents plan? We will continue to have diminishing gas tax revenues, increased fuel mileage with our vehicles, and more electric cars not paying any gas taxes. Something has to give on the revenue front.

We have a problem we have to solve, how to pay for transportation. Tolling or some other mileage or user or mileage fees will have to be part of the solution. At least tourists will pay their share with tolls.

Will this problem lead to more discussions on who pays for consumption of transportation resources? The closer we can get to a user pays solution the fairer it is for everybody. This will also make the budgeting and planning process less political and reduce wasteful pork barrel projects.

Hillsborough County will continue to grow in population, with forecasts of an additional 600,000 residents by 2040. Most of that growth will continue to be in the county, as well as another 200,000 in southern Pasco. This growth will require new capacity on the Tampa Bay interstates.  If we fail to address our transportation needs and build new capacity, it will eventually impact the local economy.

Few of these new residents will be walking or biking to work or around their livable, walkable community in any significant numbers to reduce the need for automobile transportation.

We'll have to do something, and tolling and user pays models must be part of the plans.

What are the toll road opponents plans?

If they don't want toll roads, can we start a discussion on using the gas tax solely for roads, rather than on transit, bike paths, side walks, trails, and roadside gardening?

We stand by.

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