Wednesday, July 27, 2016

We Refuse to Be Bamboozled Again - Fund Roads and Transportation Now!

We are in the Hillsborough County 2017 Budget Cycle and nothing has changed.

Taxpayers are being bamboozled again by a county budget process that is disingenuous, not transparent and simply not honest.

During the FY2016 budget cycle last year, we were told the county had $121 million of new revenues that included almost $50 million of new recurring revenues and the $22.8 million one-time BP oil spill settlement money.

The FY2016 Budget stated the county was funding pet pork projects, nebulous economic development projects, new services, more parks to maintain, etc. but no money for our highest priority - roads.
FY2016 Budget statement on uses of new revenue - no money for roads
It was absurd that the county refused to appropriately fund our roads and transportation needs last year. 

The phony, crony Go Hillsborough campaign was underway during last years budget cycle. Apparently, someone(s) down at County Center preferred holding our road funding hostage last year hoping for a sales tax hike. That is now dead.

In FY2016, who knew that the county was BORROWING $46.5 million and calling that debt part of "new revenues? 

What is this debt funding?
Projects funded by Debt
Why is the county borrowing money for these projects?  According to this Tribune article last September:
County Administrator Mike Merrill this week amended his fiscal 2016 budget to include $15 million for the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, also known as ELAPP. County commissioners gave the budget preliminary approval Thursday night. 
Merrill said he was able to “make room” in the budget for ELAPP because the county is getting $6 million more in property tax revenue than was projected when he presented his budget in June. An additional $5 million is coming from the Sheriff’s Office, which often returns money it does not spend out of its yearly county appropriation.
If the county borrowed $15 million for ELAPP, then where did the $15 million go that Merrill said he found in the existing budget for ELAPP?

What specific "redevelopment" projects are being funded with these debt dollars? What is the return on investment that is expected from these projects?

Why is the county borrowing almost $50 million to fund these projects when the county has refused to fund our roads they have neglected for years?

The bigger question is why isn't the county funding our highest priorities - our roads and transportation - if the county is borrowing almost $50 million for these projects?

When we asked where the revenue was coming from to pay for the operating expenses associated with the capital projects funded by this debt, we were told the operating expenses would be covered by future revenues. 

The county will earmark future revenues to cover operating expenses for these lower priority projects at the same time the county refuses to fund our roads.

Hillsborough County is growing. We are fortunate as our housing values are increasing and we have new construction being added to our tax rolls, increasing our property tax revenues. In addition as our economy has rebounded, our sales tax revenues are also  increasing. 

Continuing to hold our roads and transportation funding hostage is nonsense.

Unfortunately, the nonsense continues with the FY2017 budget.

The county commissioners have stated transportation is our highest priority. The commissioners provided direction to county staff to pursue allocating a percentage of our new revenue growth to transportation. 

At a Budget Workshop earlier in the year when mobility fees were being discussed, Merrill acknowledged that proposal:
From Merrill Budget Presentation
earlier this year

To ensure transportation is a priority the county must allocate a percentage right off the top of the new available revenue funds BEFORE funding lower priority items. 

The FY2017 proposed budget does not do that. 

What Merrill is presenting at tomorrow's Budget Workshop is in a different format than what he presented last year. Some information appears to be missing. One-time new revenue sources, including the almost $23 million BP oil spill settlement money, are nowhere to be found. 

The estimated recurring new revenues have been reduced from Merrill's earlier budget presentation. Why?

We asked how much was going to transportation funding in the FY2017 budget, we received the following information.
New Transportation Spending in FY2017
It is absurd to include impact fee buybacks as transportation funding. Doing so drastically overstates what is actually being spent on transportation projects. That is a disservice to the taxpaying public and not being honest.

It appears that the proposed FY2017 budget continues to fail us by refusing to fund our roads and transportation needs within our existing ballooning budget.

If that does not change with our FY2017 budget cycle, then transportation is not the priority of this county commission. 

That would be shameful place to be after the county spent over three years, $1.3 million of taxpayer money and tons of county resources telling the public that transportation is a top priority.

Budget Workshop meetings are intended for in depth discussions of the budget and not intended for Board action. Tomorrow's workshop meeting has been opened to public comment but it is not a properly noticed Budget Public Hearing. 

Since the July Budget Public Hearing was cancelled by Merrill, the commissioners must take action at the Workshop tomorrow to set the millage rate which is statutorily required to be done by July 31st. 

Proper governance would dictate actions taken on the budget should occur after any workshops were held and after a properly noticed Budget Public Hearing was conducted.

Taxpayers are tired of being bamboozled while the county has done nothing to fund our roads and transportation. 

Continuing to fail to fund our roads and fix our transportation issue is not an option.

It's time to put an end to the budget nonsense now.

The county commissioners must step up. They must lead on funding our roads and transportation needs. They must stop being led by an entrenched bureaucracy who continues to fail us. 

Because….like the old Twisted Sister song….

We're not going to take it anymore!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Commissioners Must Act Now To Fund our Roads

Not only did the county commissioners vote last month at the second sales tax hike public hearing against any sales tax hike referendum, they also voted to pursue Commissioner Sandy Murman's proposal to fund our roads and transportation needs within our growing existing budget. 

We are now in the FY2017 budget cycle and there is concern that county staff is not doing that nor putting forth a budget following the strategic direction they were told. In addition, the county was not providing ample opportunity for the public to weigh in with public comment on the FY2017 budget. That would be wrong at this critical juncture where the county must start appropriately funding our roads and transportation.

Below is the public comment I made at last weeks BOCC meeting:
I am Sharon Calvert and I live in Lutz, FL. I am concerned with the 2017 budget. After two public hearings, a majority of this Board said that transportation will be a top priority in our budget.  
Five weeks later I am concerned that the recommended budget does not do that. The Board voted, you gave direction, County staff must work to do that.
For your vote to be meaningful, this Board needs to follow through and do what you said you would do, fund our roads and transportation now, starting with our FY2017 within the growth of our existing budget.
This is a critical budget cycle. Yet there are no budget public hearings until September, way too late for the public to weigh in on changes to be made for this budget cycle. 
A budget workshop is scheduled for next week. I ask that the Board open that workshop to public comment. Otherwise, it appears there is lack of transparency and our critical budget process cannot be orchestrated and manipulated outside of Sunshine.  
The Administrator’s budget must stop growing by double digits. It is absurd that tens of millions of dollars of impact fee buybacks benefiting developers are somehow considered transportation funding. That is simply not being honest. 
Stop funding pet pork projects, stop funding those questionable and nebulous economic development projects, stop handing our tax dollars to special interests, or adding more parks to maintain, no more money to filmmakers and stop subsidizing the millionaires and billionaires - but start funding our highest priority - roads and transportation needs that have been neglected for way too long.  
For over three years, the county spent untold resources, time, effort and over $1.3 million telling the public that transportation is a priority.  
Now is the time for the Board to act and prove it. 
This budget cycle will confirm whether this Board has the fiscal discipline to reign in unnecessary spending and start appropriately funding our roads.  
The time is now to start enacting Commissioner Murman’s proposal to use the growth of our existing budget to fund our roads and transportation. 
Because continuing to hold our road funding hostage must stop now. 
Thank you.
Checking the BOCC calendar, we now find that the Budget Workshop scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and the Transportation Workshop scheduled for Wednesday afternoon have been cancelled. A Budget Workshop is now scheduled for Thursday, July 28, at 9am.

BOCC Calendar
The agenda and presentation for this meeting can be found here. From the agenda, it appears the county has opened this meeting up for public comment. 

Why is the county giving non-union county employees a 3.5% raise? That is a pay raise unheard of today in the private sector. Many of the county commissioners own constituents, who were negatively impacted by the last recession, are still playing catch up and are not receiving such pay raises. 

Our existing revenues have been growing at a rate of well over 6% per year the last few years, yet the county has refused to fund our roads. In FY2016 the county had over $100 million of new revenues, including over $40 million of new recurring revenues and the county refused to fund our roads. 

A previous budget workshop held earlier this year, County Administrator Mike Merrill presented:

Where is the almost $23 million of BP oil spill settlement money going? Those funds have no restrictions on their use and can be used for transportation that has been neglected for almost a decade. The BP oil spill settlement money and the almost $62 million of estimated new sources of funds together add up to almost $95 million of new revenues for FY2017.

There is no excuse for not funding our roads and transportation.

Yet it appears the budget proposed by County Administrator Mike Merrill does not follow the direction given by the county commissioners last month. As our county revenues continue going up and up and up, Merrill again is refusing to appropriately fund our roads and transportation. 

Merrill continues to hold our road and transportation funding hostage while he has been growing his bureaucracy for years by double digits. This is fiscally irresponsible. 

The nonsense needs to stop. In the private sector, when the Board of Directors provides specific strategic direction to company management, management must follow the direction. If management does not follow the Boards direction, they are fired.

There is a problem down at County Center that must be addressed. Merrill and his staff must work to accommodate the direction the commissioners gave him to start funding transportation within our growing existing budget. The entrenched bureaucracy must stop being obstructionists and do their job.

The county administrator is an unelected bureaucrat not a policy maker. We do not have an elected county mayor. The county administrator cannot collude with a couple of commissioners to push their own or some special interests of theirs agenda. 

If county staff refuse to follow directions given them by the elected county commissioners, then the commissioners must find the proper staff who will.

The county has wasted years doing absolutely nothing to fix our transportation. 

That is unacceptable. We demand better. 

It is time for the county commissioners to act. They must produce a FY2017 budget that starts funding our roads and transportation within our existing growing budget. 

The commissioners must rein in unnecessary spending and fund our roads and transportation needs first.

If they refuse, transportation is not a priority for THEM.

If they refuse, it confirms THEY cannot fix our transportation issue.

If they refuse, the solution to the out of control ballooning budget and bureaucracy must come from the voters themselves. 

And We the People have the power to do it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

PSTA and Uber

Is PSTA closing in on a viable solution to the public transportation last mile problem?

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Pinellas County's PSTA has reached an agreement with ridesharing company Uber for a new early-morning/ late-night service named TD Late Shift.

You can get more details from Janelle Irwin Reporter for Tampa Bay Business Journal in her article Pinellas transit expands one partnership with Uber, launches another.

There is more info from PSTA at TD Late Shift.

From the PSTA Web site: "PSTA first publicized its relationship with Uber earlier this year when the two transportation providers launched Direct Connect, a six-month pilot program that connects people to bus stops for a subsidized rate. Now, PSTA is expanding that program to span across the entire county offering unlimited, on-demand Uber and Taxi rides for approximately $1."

If you have not been to the PSTA WEB site, check it out. Note the Google Transit trip planner, which I have used, and it is really great.

These new initiatives are part of PSTA's ongoing efforts to resolve one of public transportation's major problems: the last mile connection, or more commonly stated as, "how do I get from my front door to the bus stop?"

PSTA will also use United Taxi and Care Ride for disable customers of the TD Late Shift Program.

I think these programs are great, and we should share the news so the people who need them know about them.

The growing connections between Uber and PSTA come at a time when Uber is continuing to struggle with local regulations, especially in Hillsborough County.  

How well will the PSTA and Uber connections work out? Who knows but that is what these trials are all about.

PSTA has done a remarkable job since the GreenLight initiative failed. They have been innovative and forward-looking and there are probably more programs like the Uber effort under consideration.

I for one hope the PSTA/Uber team is an outstanding success for both organizations and public transportation users.

What I would like to see is an end-to-end application where I can order a complete trip.

Pick up at my door, drop off at the bus connection, pickup at my bus destination and a ride to my final destination. All ordered, paid for and ticketed on one app, and a return initiated when I call for pick up when I am ready to return home.

The hardware is all in place. No infrastructure needed just some creative thinking and a little software.

My only word of caution is PSTA under Brad Miller's leadership has had a tendency to get carried away when they get excited about an effort or opportunity.

When you are playing with the likes of Uber, you are playing in the big time and PSTA, and the PSTA Board needs to follow these developments and agreements closely along with the relationships between staff and Uber.

Transparency is the key to success.

These are good ideas. It would be a real shame to have them fall victim to or become tainted by some poor judgment.  

E-mail Doc at mail to: or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to Like or share on Facebook.

See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Experts: Transportation Sales Tax Funds a Road to Nowhere

Crossposted with permission from Jim Bleyer, Tampa Bay Beat

Experts: Transportation Sales Tax Funds a Road to Nowhere

Promoting local sales tax increases for transit projects will always be a losing struggle in Florida, a group of transportation strategists agreed this week.

They attributed voter mistrust of government as the insurmountable barrier to referendum-based tax hikes. That unequivocal assessment were expressed at a funding symposium during the 2016 Transportation Summit at St. Pete Beach.

It puts an exclamation point on the word “no,” the message voters in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have emphatically delivered to their local governments three times in the past six years. The most recent fail occurred in April and June when Hillsborough commissioners voted against even putting a sales tax increase on the ballot after a grass roots uproar.

The fear and misinformation tactics used by proponents, including the far less than unbiased Tampa Bay Times, were contemptible.

It’s bad news for not only the tax-addicted Times but also for the cabal of politicos in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties whose narrow vision cannot see beyond the use of regressive sales taxes to pay off their corporate sponsors. In Pinellas, County Commissioner Ken Welch leads the sales tax charge. In Hillsborough, County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn are the prime movers.

All know the agony of defeat: Hillsborough voters soundly rejected a mass transit proposal in 2010 that would have boosted the sales tax hy 58-42 percent. The Greenlight Pinellas tax increase for transit, promoted by all the usual suspects, got thrashed, 62-38.

The symposium experts said such sales tax increases will forever be DOA in the best of circumstamces. Both Greenlight Pinellas and Go Hillsborough were tainted by shady dealings involving bureaucratic functionaries: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller and Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

The centerpiece of both transit plans was a light rail system that would have paid off bond attorneys, wealthy land barons, realtors, engineering firms, and other entrenched business interests.

Neighboring counties haven’t been suckers so far. Polk County voters smothered a sales tax for roads 72-28 percent in 2014. The mettle of Manatee County voters will be tested in November when they will be asked to extend a half-cent schools sales tax and implement an “infrastructure” tax for the same amount.

The roundtable discussion was moderated by Ed Regan, senior vice president of CDM Smith, a multinational engineering and construction firm. The Tampa Bay Times was aware of the symposium and whether it was staffed or not, no article has appeared in the Times digital edition 30 hours after the event.

The summit was hosted by Floridians for Better Transportation in partnership with the Transportation and Expressway Authority Membership of Florida. One of the corporate sponsors was Parsons Brinckerhoff, the multinational engineering firm that stood to eventually haul in as much as a quarter billion dollars if Go Hillsborough passed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

TBX and the Political Kabuki Dancing

Two weeks after the Go Hillsborough sales tax hike died, the MPO held a public hearing June 22nd on their Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). The contentious part was whether to include FDOT's TBX Express project in the 5 year TIP. 
TBX Master Plan
Hundreds showed up and the StopTBX crowd as expected showed up in full force. 185 people signed up to speak and overflow crowds had to watch outside the 2nd floor Board room. The meeting started at 6pm Wednesday and went to well after 2am Thursday morning. 

Commissioner Les Miller, Chair of the MPO, allowed the normal 3 minute public comment from those who signed up to speak. Miller also allowed speakers, all from the opposition, to yield their time to other speakers. One opponent spoke for 12 minutes. 

The transcript of the meeting can be found here or downloaded here. Some of the political kabuki dancing was quite a show.

We understand there are valid concerns from those directly impacted by TBX that must be mitigated. However, some of the statements made by opponents were simply wrong, some disingenuous, some misleading and some obviously agenda driven. 

Statements made by TBX opponents included we must get out of our cars, we should not be building more roads, more roads causes air pollution and we need more transit options.

TBX opponent former Democrat Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul Sena, who lives on the wealthy enclave of Davis Island not impacted by TBX, stated: 
This is a character defining vote? Saul Sena says we need to be more like communities outside of the US? Huh? This is gobbly gook from someone who has known about FDOT's plans for years.

Saul Sena served on the Tampa City Council for 20 years which was most of her entire working career. She knew FDOT has had the expansion of our interstates in their plans for 20 years. She stated at the public hearing that she was a former MPO Board member so she knew that expanding our interstates was in the MPO's approved 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan. 

Suddenly when funding from our state/federal gas taxes we already pay becomes available to actually implement the interstate expansion Saul Sena has an issue.

Saul Sena must understand transportation funding and knows the gas tax is a user fee that was specifically implemented to fund our roads, highways and bridges. She also must know that federal grants for high cost rail and transit projects is not "free" money. Those grants come from the feds general revenue fund which today is simply more federal "debt" dollars as we approach $20 Trillion in debt.

Some TBX opponents wrongly called a toll a tax. Tolls are a user fee that individuals voluntarily decide to pay for the benefit of improving the convenience of their travel. User fees are the fairest to everyone - you use it you pay for it.  

There were lots of rah-rah's for rail, especially from the StopTBX contingency. They wanted all kinds of rail - light rail, commuter rail, high speed rail. Ironically those who were opposing user pays toll lanes prefer to force everyone to pay for highly subsidized costly rail that will do nothing to relieve congestion and few will use.

There was also a large contingent of TBX supporters, including (for transparency) myself, who showed up to speak. 

After a time, the comments became repetitive as nothing new was stated.

Over 1.2 million are expected to move to the Tampa Bay area by 2040, including 600K to Hillsborough county. Regardless of the rhetoric, most newcomers will be bringing their cars and they will not be moving downtown. 

Therefore, our interstate system, the foundation and backbone of our transportation system in the Tampa Bay area, must be expanded and improved and the choke points at I-4 and 60 fixed. Otherwise, we will certainly have gridlock and cause more commuter traffic to use our neighborhood streets not meant for such volume creating more safety issues.

TBX Express is not only about adding additional capacity with managed toll lanes. TBX Express provides an express bus transit corridor that enables HART the opportunity to increase ridership. TBX provides our school system the opportunity to get our children to school more timely. TBX Express empowers individuals to make their own decisions whether to pay the toll or not without coercion. Those who individually decide to pay the toll also benefit those who individually decide not to pay the toll - a win-win for everyone.

What is striking is where were the TBX opponents when the MPO was doing their Imagine 2040 public outreach? FDOT's TBX Express projects are in the MPO's Long Range Transportation Plan aka LRTP. The MPO Board and the Planning Commission already approved the MPO's LRTP that included TBX.
Page 93 of MPO's LRTP that includes TBX
I-275 was recently widened from downtown south to 60 and displaced numerous homes and businesses. Mayor Buckhorn has been demolishing low income housing units in the urban core for his urban redevelopment projects for years displacing hundreds of low income renters. Where was opposition or concern for those displaced by those projects?

FDOT already owns most of the right of way for the project. FDOT owns the property used by the Tampa Heights Civic Association for their community center. FDOT bought the property in 2006 as part of the I-4 interchange expansion, therefore everyone knew there were plans to expand the interchange. FDOT leased the property to the city of Tampa who leased it to the Tampa Heights Civic Association. The Tampa Heights Civic Association made improvements to the property without obtaining approval from FDOT who owns the property. To help mitigate the issue, the state legislature appropriated $1 million to move the community center to another location.

Public comment ended in the early morning hours of Thursday and finally discussion began by members of the MPO Board. A better description was the political theater began. All of the contentious comments were made from the electeds who were doing political maneuvering most probably because they were running for office or re-election.

Commissioner Miller made a motion, seconded by Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, to remove the I-4 choke point and segments north and east of the I-4 interchange (sections 6, 7 & 8) from the TBX project. That is simply idiocy. Apparently Miller and Maniscalco are ok with malfunction junction - a major cause of congestion - and are not concerned about those who live in northern or eastern Hillsborough County.

That motion failed 5-11, most probably for it's lack of common sense because the I-4 chokepoint must be fixed. The role of federally mandated MPO's is not to just consider transportation priorities for downtown Tampa.

Miller was playing politics as he had already come out against TBX before the public hearing because he feared a Democrat challenger. He did get a Dem challenger, StopTBX activist Kimberly Overman, who conveniently withdrew on June 23rd the day after Miller voted no on TBX at the public hearing. 

As we posted here, Miller wanted billions more from us with an unnecessary sales tax hike. He wanted billions more tax dollars to fund costly fairy dust transit/rail projects that have no realistic cost estimates, no ridership studies, no technical analysis, no defined corridors - no data to support - except being on a costly wish list. At the same time, Miller will throw away a $3.3 Billion funded project that would actually help relieve congestion in Hillsborough County and Tampa Bay.

Democrat Commissioner Kevin Beckner, term limited in November and running for Clerk of the Court, a countywide race where he faces a tough primary with the Democrat incumbent Pat Frank, bought up the question of what the "human impact" is.

Per the meeting transcript, Debbie Hunt of FDOT answered:
Are most of the properties that FDOT may still need to acquire rental properties and tenant occupied not owner occupied? That would make sense because the expansion of the interstate has been in FDOT's plans for decades.

Beckner also mentioned "there are a lot of regressive outcomes that could happen with the use of toll lanes". Beckner supported the unnecessary proposed Go Hillsborough sales tax hike. Sales tax hikes are the most regressive and impact lower income the hardest. Apparently Beckner was not concerned about that "regressive outcome".

Democrat City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who represents New Tampa and recently submitted her resignation to run for state House seat District 63, wanted to know the tax impact to the city of Tampa. We wonder whether Montelione asked the same tax impact question about the recent I-275 widening at downtown that also took numerous homes and businesses. 

Montelione is a transit supporter and it was obvious she prefers transit and costly trains to user pay toll lanes. However, she made some misguided or misinformed statements. Montelione was concerned about toll lanes on freeways and paying extra for better service. 

The interstate "freeway" is not turning into all toll lanes like the Veterans Expressway as existing interstate capacity remains non tolled. We pay extra for a different level of service everyday. If Montelione wants expedited delivery at the post office, she will pay extra for it. At government agencies, if Montelione wants to pay for a service with a credit card, she will pay an additional fee to use that convenience. If Montelione wants anything expedited or a higher level of service, it is most likely Montelione will pay extra for that expedited service. And that is her individual choice.

The Veterans Expressway expansion has also been in the MPO's LRTP for years and that expansion is currently underway. The Veterans is a toll only road and the expansion is adding two lanes in each direction, one general tolled lane and one express toll lane. I do not recall hearing opposition from Montelione or others about the express toll lanes being built on the Veterans.

Montelione mentioned Broward County who has had Tri Rail for 25 years before they implemented toll lanes on the interstate in South Florida. 
How can it be backwards to first do what actually works to relieve congestion? Ti-Rail runs huge deficits and must be bailed out by state taxpayers every year while the toll lanes are successful in South Florida. Tri-Rail is operated by South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA). According to their latest Transportation Development Plan (TDP), farebox revenue (about $13 million) recovers less than 13% of their total operating costs of almost $105.7 million. Ti-Rail requires funding assistance from other sources of over $92 million a year.

The weekday ridership for Tri-Rail is about 14,400 according to Wikipedia.  The 2014 populations of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties total about 5.8 million. With a weekday daily ridership of 14,400, about a quarter of one percent, .24%, of the population in those three counties ride Tri-Rail. Looks more like South Florida did it backwards. How about Tampa Bay do what actually works and will benefit the most first…

Montelione has an issue with users individually deciding to pay for a service they use but she has no issue forcing everyone to pay for services they will never use.

Murman, Beckner and Montelione brought up issues regarding FDOT accountability. No problem with wanting accountability but the irony continued. Beckner wanted all the impact studies, PD&E, mitigation plans, etc. for TBX. However, he never asked for or seemed concerned about accountability regarding the proposed Go Hillsborough sales tax hike. 

Like Miller, Beckner voted to support the Go Hillsborough big sales tax hike to fund costly fairy dust transit projects that have no data - none of the data he was asking from FDOT for the funded TBX project. Beckner never requested any studies, realistic cost estimates, technical analysis, engineering studies or any other detailed information for the rail and taj mahal BRT transit projects included in Go Hillsborough. 

We know why. Because such information or details to back up why these high cost projects were included in the tax hike proposal simply does not exist. That can be a post for another day.

Beckner, like Miller, would throw out a funded project that will actually help reduce congestion. Remember for future reference.

motion was passed by the MPO Board for FDOT to regularly update the MPO on the TBX project and bring the human impact and tax impact information back to the MPO. 

The political theater wound down as the clock ticked well past 2 am in the morning. The MPO Board members finally voted 12-4 to approve the Transportation Improvement Plan with TBX. The four who voted No were County Commissioners Miller and Beckner and Tampa City Council reps Montelione and Guido Maniscalco. 

It is unfortunate that the TBX project got to such a point because it is not a new project. FDOT did not do a good job of messaging. They allowed the opposition to create false narratives and gain media attention that amplified misinformation about the project which enabled the opposition to politicize the project.

There is no excuse for why our local transportation issue and FDOT's TBX project were dealt with in such a disconnected way. FDOT was a participant in the county's Transportation and Economic Development (TED)/Transportation Policy Leadership Group initiative but the Go Hillsborough campaign royally messed up. Go Hillsborough displayed pictures of I-275 traffic at their public meetings falsely insinuating that Go Hillsborough was going to solve interstate congestion. That was a total misperception because Go Hillsborough had nothing to do with relieving congestion on our interstates. 

Go Hillsborough should have informed the public about the proposed TBX project as part of the overall solution for relieving congestion in Tampa Bay. Go Hillsborough should have been honest that it is the proposed TBX project that will relieve congestion on our interstates not any locally funded plan. Instead Go Hillsborough had their heads stuck in the sand  pushing an unnecessary sales tax hike and not focusing on the issue of mobility.

TBARTA and our MPO should have been championing TBX and helping to educate the public about TBX. Both agencies had no problems in 2010 spending tons of taxpayer money and resources to educate advocate for the failed rail tax. Yet they were almost nowhere to be found educating the public on TBX, a funded project that both their boards had approved.

TBX lives on for another day but the StopTBX crowd will continue opposing TBX and will continue tactics to shut it down.

TBARTA and our MPO must get off the sidelines and help educate the public about the project because both agencies have approved TBX.

The electeds who support TBX need to champion the project and educate their constituents.

FDOT needs to vastly improve their messaging about TBX. They must ensure accountability with accurate communication and regular updates to the MPO but the FDOT also must push back when the opposition collaborates with the media to create false narratives.

TBX survives, for now, but there is work to do to ensure our MPO continues supporting the project and it actually gets implemented. 

The interstate is there, has been for over 50 years and it's not going away - no matter how many TBX opponents would prefer tearing it up.

We need more consistency and less hypocrisy to solve our transportation issue.

Unfortunately we expect more political kabuki dancing before the TBX project starts.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Reader's thoughts on Mass Transit and light rail

We as a community need to think not only about one year from now but 5, 10, 20 years from now! – CV

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Transportation continues to be a major issue in the Tampa Bay Area. There have been multiple failed efforts to convince the public to tax itself for the development of transportation initiatives.

Here is an e-mail from a reader with a different view:

    Read your post on the "Patch." My thought is that I would be willing to pay an extra 1% in sales tax to bring another form of mass transit to the area. I believe that it would benefit the local citizens by creating jobs, eventually relieving vehicle traffic, helping seniors get around (which provides a better mental health for the aging), it would create media attention to the area
which can be a boost to local marketing and advertising therefore stimulating the economy, and finally providing tourists with a way to see areas that they may not have if they just took a taxi from the airport to their final destination (again, a possible benefit to local businesses!

    Let's say I spend $100 a week in purchases that are taxable. That means that i would be paying an extra $1 to help the local economy in a big way. Is that really that big of a burden for me?.... Absolutely not and I think that if the "Train" initiative was presented as only costing a $1 a week, (which is probably double what most people spend in taxable purchases, remember "real" food isn't taxed) that the vote would be to pass an increase in county tax!

    All that people such as yourself seem to blog about is how these things are going to cost YOU and your like minded individuals. I ask that you take the time to think about and write about both sides of the argument. Think about how your $1 could actually help others! We as a community need to think not only about 1 year from now but 5, 10, 20 years from now! The last I heard, more people are moving into Florida than out of it. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my opinion!
CV - Clearwater

You make a very good point.

The problem all along has been the bay area people behind light rail are mostly developers and real estate people. Their principal objective has been to use publicly funded light rail to start transit-oriented redevelopment of Pinellas County.

You only have to look at the meandering route of the failed GreenLight Pinellas effort to see this approach at work. The entire GreenLight effort focused on creating new centers of development and not on improving public transportation.

There was also no significant GreenLight effort to resolve the "last mile" issue.

This approach rarely works in the US.

If we had a serious transit plan that solved the "last mile" problem and put light rail where it would be effective I agree that the public would support it.

The CSX tracks offer a significant opportunity, but the "last mile" problem is huge in the CSX scenario.

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