Friday, June 16, 2017

A Bigger Mess with Tampa Bay Next?

Tampa Bay taxpayers keep funding more transportation initiatives. The consultants love us… 

FDOT has recently launched another two year transportation initiative Tampa Bay Next. This is a FOUR County (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk) TBX replacement initiative on steroids - complete with new graphics! We know they're really serious this time! 

It's another taxpayer funded public outreach free for all AGAIN.

This latest transportation public relations endeavor is underway at the same time as the $1.6 million Streetcar study, the $1.5 million Regional Premium Transit Campaign, HART's TDP update and an effort to regionalize our MPO's. They all have taxpayer funded public outreach creating confusion, chaos and public fatigue on the transportation issue. Maybe all that is intentional…

But logic defies how FDOT would dole out $1.5 million for a THREE county (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco) regional transit campaign BEFORE this latest FOUR county initiative - cart before the horse. 

Governor Scott just signed Latvala's egregious TBARTA bill creating an unnecessary new FIVE county (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee) transit agency. But Scott also veto'd all of TBARTA's funding that got appropriated this session. 

What a mess! 

But here we are…

FDOT states the obvious on their new web site: "Tampa Bay has a traffic problem".

We agree. Probably everyone agrees.

But Tampa Bay has wasted too much time, too much taxpayer money and too much energy on FAILED proposals at the detriment of getting other things done to actually help relieve congestion. 

This new initiative is not just an update to the 1997 Environmental Impact Study (EIS) done the Federal Highway Administration requires for interstate expansion projects. FDOT says TampaBayNext initiative is a new program to modernize Tampa Bay's infrastructure and prepare for the future but leaves out Interstate expansion that must be done if we don't want gridlock in our future.

  • Interstate Modernization
  • Transit
  • Bicycle/Pedestrian Facilities
  • Complete Streets (most expensive street built)
  • Transportation Innovation
  • Freight Mobility
This is what our federally mandated/funded MPO's do. MPO's already do extensive public outreach for long range planning paid for by taxpayers. We have an MPO Board who approves the MPO's five year Transportation Improvement Plan. Why is FDOT stepping way outside its normal jurisdiction and duplicating what we already pay our MPO's to do? 

In addition, TBARTA has an updated regional Master Plan consistent with each county's MPO Long Range Transportation Plan. They also did extensive outreach. 

Our local transit agencies do outreach to update their 10 year Transportation Development Plans. 

And our local MPO's in coordination with our counties and Planning Commission develop our highway level of service (LOS) reports. sets no realistic boundaries or expectations and is another free for all like Go Hillsborough.  

The kickoff meeting for FDOT's TampaBayNext Community Working Group meetings was held on May 24th. The Eye was there. 

Instead of putting dots on a board or writing on a map like what was done with Go Hillsborough, FDOT is using professional "facilitators" from the Collaborative Labs of St. Petersburg College. That's the same collaboration group that gave us the 2010 Hillsborough rail tax referendum and the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas rail tax referendum - both overwhelmingly defeated. That is not a successful record of gaining so-called "consensus' on the transportation issue in Tampa Bay.

The kick off meeting was over represented by StopTXers. They posted talking points to show up and were there to push their agenda that transit is our greatest need, we need to demolish our interstates and demand that TBX be removed from our MPO's five year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

To digress - Some sanity still exists, at least for now. The Hillsborough MPO voted 12-3 this week to keep the interstate improvement and expansion project in the TIP. Good - because:
  • Expansion of our interstates have been in FDOT's plans for decades. TBX, or whatever name it is called, is funded by state/federal gas taxes we already pay - no tax hike needed. Those dollars are earmarked for highways, bridges and interstates and cannot be diverted to transit. 
  • If the project is removed from the MPO's TIP, the state can and will hand the $6 Billion of Tampa Bay interstate improvement and expansion funding to other parts of the state. Jax, Central Florida and South Florida are all currently expanding their own interstates with managed toll lanes and probably drooling over any possibility of getting Tampa Bay's interstate funding. They are not stupid.
  • If Tampa Bay rejects the FDOT funds, say goodbye to getting any more anytime soon and hello to gridlock. It would be decades before the state would consider handing such funds to Tampa Bay again. And with over a million people moving here by 2040, most bringing their cars, the result would be total gridlock and our surface streets becoming much more dangerous.
The "official" recording by FDOT of the May 24th meeting can be found here. Read through it. The basics for a kick off meeting were totally missing. No specific problem was defined, no goals were established and no timeline was provided. 

How can congestion relief not be a top priority of any ideal transportation system in the Tampa Bay region? But removal of urban highways aka demolish I-275 that 200K vehicles and a half million people use everyday is?  How can any ideal future transportation system include removing I-275 north of Tampa? That is extreme! Why would FDOT be considering such extremism?

This is what happens at free for alls that set no boundaries. StopTBXers are a vocal group but they represent a very small percentage of the millions who live in the four counties and use our interstates. 

The same artist is used at all these transportation gatherings to sketch a drawing during the meeting. Here is the picture of the drawing that was made from the 5/24 kickoff meeting. The picture confirms FDOT's latest transportation initiative is Go Hillsborough over four counties. And yes they are at it again - Costly light rail that voters consistently reject.
Drawing from 5/24 FDOT kickoff meeting
How much does all this cost and who and how would all this be paid for? Those silly little questions

Since over 98% of us drive in Tampa Bay, where's congestion relief for vehicles? MIA in that picture.There is not one car/truck/vehicle in this picture except for a car with a caption "Car Optional". That is absurd! The urbanists want to demolish our interstates that a half million people use everyday and move Mayberry RFD to the urban core and have you pay for it. 

And stop using the term "choices" which is rhetorical and over used. Perhaps my choice is for Scotty to beam me up - can we include that too? The private sector is rapidly innovating to provide new services and the "choices" that people actually want and are willing to pay for. 

The millions who use our interstates in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco everyday know we need to fix our interstates FIRST. Most, if not all, of the 1.2 million people expected to move here by 2040 will bring their cars.

Be realistic. Billions spent on costly transit could never begin to relieve congestion. And we all will count the noses of which electeds willing to hand Tampa Bays funded TBX interstate expansion and improvement money (state/federal gas taxes we already pay) to another part of the state for them to wisely improve their interstates.

The amount of taxpayer money spent in Tampa Bay on transportation/transit studies, public outreach, reports, plans, public relations campaigns, tax hike referendums, meetings and rhetoric seems endless. 


Because special interests, our local media, taxpayer funded agencies, unelected bureaucrats wanting to grow bureaucracies and some politicos, especially those eyeing a new big pot of money to dole out, keep trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. 

The same people keep pushing costly transit projects and tax hikes on voters who consistently reject them. So little or nothing gets done except enriching the same consultants over and over and over.

Unfortunately, FDOT District 7 has decided to join their games launching another taxpayer funded two year transportation charade.

FDOT District 7 will be getting a new Secretary since Paul Steinman recently resigned.

Whoever takes over that position needs to reset this free for all. It is not the responsibility of FDOT to duplicate what our MPO's already do. FDOT should exercise realistic boundaries so that expectations can actually be achieved.

Otherwise, Tampa Bay Next just creates a bigger mess.

1 comment:

  1. Try proving that gas taxes and tolls would cover all associated costs of TBX. Then try proving the $6+ billion FDOT is seeking to blow on TBX actually exists anywhere in any credible budget projection that has any hope of coming close to panning out. It's simply not possible. FDOT, the MPO nor anybody else has ever substantiated the specious claims that serve as the basis for TBX, even though they have been asked to do so countless times. They won't even disclose how much has already been spent to date on TBX. (It's only known that it is well north of $100 million)

    You say you're watchdogs for fiscal sanity, and calling out these competing, rigged studies underway is doing that. But try digging a little deeper, and you'll quickly realize the same thing the StopTBX folks figured out. TBX's numbers are BS. If it wasn't BS, it wouldn't be so strenuously opposed by such a broad cross section of people. Many StopTBX people want regional highway improvements and plenty of them. Real improvements that actually work and give residents and businesses real value for their money, not just phony value trumped up on paper to give sold out and aloof politicians cover to build this boondoggle.

    Dig deeper. You'll see for yourself that we can easily do better than this incompetent crap. Some would argue after decades of failure by our regional planning apparatus, we can't afford not to do better.