Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hillsborough MPO Needs New Leadership

When the Chair of a powerful governing board uses their position to further their own  agenda, it is time for a leadership change.

Under Commissioner Les Miller Chairmanship of the Hillsborough County MPO, the MPO continues to offer one monolithic group of people opportunities no one else is offered. That is wrong.
Commissioner Les Miller is Chair of Hillsborough MPO
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO's) are federally mandated transportation policy making organizations made up of representatives from local government and governmental transportation authorities. They are a critical and powerful organization because all Federal funding for transportation projects and programs are channeled through the MPO planning process. MPO's are tasked with establishing and managing a fair and impartial setting for effective decision making. 

According to our Hillsborough MPO's own website (emphasis mine):
The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is a transportation policy-making board comprised of representatives from local governments and transportation agencies. According to federal and state laws, the Hillsborough County MPO is responsible for establishing a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process for Hillsborough County.
Our local MPO does planning for Hillsborough County, not just the city of Tampa or the urban core. The MPO Board must consider the entire county in its planning and decision making process.

It has become obvious that Miller is playing his politics with Hillsborough's MPO.

He was MPO Chair last June 2016 during the MPO public hearing at that time. The Eye reported then that Miller voted against TBX (no tax hike required) while he supported the Go Hillsborough sales tax hike to fund costly rail/transit boondoggles. Miller got a Democrat challenger last year, StopTBXer Kimberly Overman, until she conveniently withdrew on June 23rd, the day after Miller voted no on TBX at the public hearing.

As we posted in May, it was Commissioner Miller who used his position as Chair of the MPO to offer only transit advocates an opportunity to attend FDOT's peer exchange in St. Louis. All but one of his six Hillsborough County invitees were from Miller's district and the city of Tampa, including four StopTBXers. 

The city of Tampa's population is only 27% of the county and Miller's district is much smaller than that. We are left assuming Miller does not think any others from a county of 1.3 million and 1100 square miles is worthy of such opportunity. We found no public vote or agreement by the members of the MPO Board for who Miller himself selected to participate in this unique opportunity.

We recently posted here that Joshua Frank, a USF masters student in architecture (not an engineer or a transportation expert) was offered an opportunity to present to the MPO. He, like Kimberly Overman, are part of the "tear down the interstates" extremists crowd. Frank was offered an opportunity to present his vision of tearing down I-275 from downtown to Bearss (almost 10 miles of a heavily used major interstate) at the August 1 MPO Board meeting. 

It was ironic that MPO Chair Les Miller was absent at the meeting. But MPO Executive Director Beth Alden told the Eye it was Miller who invited Frank and offered him 10 minutes. Frank took much longer than 10 minutes but no one moderated his time. 

Again we could find no public vote or agreement by the members of the full MPO Board to invite Frank - just Miller again making his own unilateral decisions. 

We could find no record of the MPO Board itself voting to solicit anyone from the public to present a lengthy presentation of "their" vision opinion. Is this a new precedent the MPO has set? Then those with differing visions than Frank and/or believe Frank's presentation left out critical information should be able present their vision too.

The federally funded MPO cannot be used to advance the agenda of a single board member, especially the Chair. As stated above, the federally funded MPO must govern in a fair and impartial way. It cannot be used as a platform to advance the Chair's political agenda, one person's vision or one group's opinion.

In addition, in January of this year, Miller was selected Chair of HART, our local transit agency. The same person should not be Chair of multiple transportation governing boards in Hillsborough County. That has potential for conflicts of interest, especially since HART is dealing with declining transit ridership and budgetary issues and the MPO is dealing with the overall contentious transportation issue in Hillsborough County.

According to the latest Bylaws of Hillsborough MPOtenure of the Chair and Vice-Chair is for 1 year or until a successor is elected but any officer may be removed by a majority of the total members. 

Miller has been MPO Chair for almost three years since January 2015. That is long enough, not withstanding that Miller is now also Chair of HART.

Hillsborough County has endured enough shenanigans regarding its transportation issue. Transportation remains contentious in Hillsborough County. Miller's recent actions add to that contentiousness. Therefore, it is time for someone else to take over as MPO Chair.

The Hillsborough MPO will soon begin updating their federally mandated Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). The MPO cannot be used to offer opportunities to one group of people not offered to others in a large and very diverse county or the MPO will lose their credibility of fairness.

Hillsborough MPO needs new leadership.

Time for the MPO Board to select a new Chair NOW.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Janet Long's Scandalous SANDAG

Commissioner Janet Long

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long proposed the Regional Council of Governments Cronies last year and is one of the biggest advocates for regionalism and taking away local control in Tampa Bay. Long used a late midnight rule by the Obama Admin mandating regionalizing MPO's as her excuse for such proposal. However, we posted here her excuse went away with the November election. The mandate rule was eliminated overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis by Congress in early May.
Long's proposed Regional Council of Governments
Regionalism is all about money and higher taxes. Regional entities are the structural mechanism used to ram all the tax hikes thru for costly rail boondoggles. Voila! Long's regional vision for transportation includes regional taxing for transportation in addition to local jurisdiction funding. 
Long's regional vision includes regional taxing
Long's proposed Regional Council of Cronies was modeled after SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments). SANDAG put a 40 year half-cent sales tax hike on the ballot last year that failed.

However, Long thought so highly of SANDAG that she used her position as Vice-Chair of another bureaucracy, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC), to stage an event in February erroneously titled Innovations In Regional Transportation

The Eye was at the event and there was very little presented about real transportation innovation. Transportation innovation is occurring in the private sector but almost all the speakers at this event were the same recycled taxpayer funded bureaucrats we've all heard before who have nothing new to say. Long needed to stage an event so she could invite SANDAG's Executive Director Gary Gallegos to be the events featured speaker at lunch. 

But SANDAG's tax hike referendum not only failed last year, they were caught in a scandal. SANDAG tried to deceive voters by using flawed economic forecasts. They misled voters by overstating the projected revenues and understating the costs of the projects promised. SANDAG then tried to cover up what they had done by skirting California's public records law. (Hmmm sound familiar?) 

Last September it was reported that SANDAG was using taxpayer money advocating for the tax hike:
“The San Diego Association of Governments’ repeated use of public funds to promote Measure A is a blatant violation of the law, which clearly prohibits the use of public funds to promote the passage of ballot measures…..Because its communications violate civil and criminal laws prohibiting the use of public funds to support a ballot measure, we demand SANDAG immediately remove all materials from its website and social media, and cease and desist using any public resources that promote passage of Measure A – including the use of publicly paid staff and consultants to do so on the agency’s behalf.
An investigation was launched after the scandal was revealed and KPBS News recently reported:
An investigation has found the San Diego Association of Governments has "forfeited the public's trust" in its response to a scandal surrounding last year's Measure A tax proposal. Executives pressured staff to delete documents and shield them from public records requests.
Voice of San Diego investigative reporting led the way reporting on the scandal and the ensuing investigation. Apparently SANDAG has a history of deceiving voters as Voice of San Diego reported last month SANDAG Misled Voters on 2004 Tax Measure, Showing Pattern of Deception Goes Back at Least 13 Years
SANDAG knew a year before the 2004 election that TransNet wouldn’t collect $14 billion, but it didn’t tell voters. This is now the third instance in which SANDAG either knowingly overstated how much money it could collect to pay for transportation projects, or understated how much projects would cost to complete.
It was reported last week that Long's role model, SANDAG's Gary Gallegos, decided to resign amidst all the mess created on his watch. Of course Gallegos resignation occurs after SANDAG's Board gave him a 4% bonus last December boosting his salary to $310K - even though the sales tax hike failed, lawsuits were filed against the tax hike ballot initiative, SANDAG illegally and unethically used public money on advocacy and the scandal was brewing. 

Long is misguided, misinformed, has bad judgment or cannot Google because scandalous SANDAG is no model to follow. 

And as WFLA reported last month, Long is a globe-trotting county commissioner who likes to spend other people's money traveling the world. 

So what does PSTA, already known for its own scandals, bad judgment and mismanagement, do? 

Reward Long by appointing her to the new highly politicized TBARTA regional transit agency already stacked and packed with too many politicos.

But Long is just a piece of the puzzle being put together and orchestrated for what's ahead.

Another tax hike referendum(s) in 2020….Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Downtown to Ghost Town

The Hillsborough MPO and TB Next charade continued today, as MPO Chairman Les Miller invited yet another urbanist proponent, USF masters student in architecture Joshua Frank, to present his demolish I-275 plan. From downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave., the proposal would replace the interstate with a street level 6 lane boulevard with bike paths, sidewalks, a transit/train corridor and an urban canopy park like setting on each side.

Sounds nice doesn't it?

Well, Mr. Frank, who is not an engineer or a transportation expert, apparently has not yet calculated the costs to demolish I-275, nor the economic impacts of removing a major commerce and transportation corridor for the Tampa Bay region.

As we demonstrated here, this will not be a 6 lane boulevard, but is more likely to be 30 lanes.

Unless of course, the intention is to create a congested road so intolerable that no one will drive on it. This will result in traffic finding a way down neighboring streets, just relocating traffic from one managed highway to multiple jammed up surface streets.

SaintPetersBlog also reported on Frank's presentation.
Although supporters of TBX said it was needed to bring commuters from Pasco County into downtown Tampa, Frank says that only 35 percent of those who drive on I-275 come from Pasco, with the other 65 percent traveling from the USF area at Fletcher Avenue to the Floribraska exit around Columbus Drive.
Mr. Frank seems to have a problem with math as well. 35 percent drive from Pasco, and the rest of the drivers on I-275 only use it from Fletcher to Floribraska?


That section of I-275 supports upwards of 200,000 vehicles a day, and forecasted up to 300,000 per day by 2040.

It is an major thoroughfare supporting the business, sporting events, arts and museums, weekend activities and residences of downtown Tampa.

If I-275 is demolished and replaced with a 6 lane boulevard, downtown Tampa will take a severe nose-dive.

Employees will not put up with the congestion to get in and out of downtown. Businesses will be forced to relocate.

Similarly, patrons for the arts, museums, and sporting events won't put up with the hassle of getting in and out of downtown for big events. Parking around downtown, particularly near the Straz Performing Arts Center, is already a problem. A problem manufactured by urban planners increasing density and not developing enough parking.

All those urbanist dreams of skyscraper canyons will fade away if people cannot easily get in and out of downtown.

Oh, but what about transit? That'll solve our problems!

Not quite. Pop quiz. Name one city that has reduced congestion as a result of transit investment.

Answer: None.

Transit ridership is decreasing nationwide. After a brief uptick in ridership after the financial crisis and recession, once the economy picked up after the recession, more people choose to leave transit and buy a car or use ride share services, as vehicle miles traveled nationwide is up near record levels and transit ridership is down. Even in metro areas with heavy investment in fixed guideways to attract the unicorn "choice" riders, transit ridership is down. Like our local politicians, people have made their choice, and it is not transit.

Tear down the interstate. Create a corridor of congestion so vast FDOT might as well build a wall around downtown Tampa.

Yeah, that's the ticket… to turn downtown Tampa into a ghost town.
Downtown Ghost Town
Then watch Vinikville...move to Wesley Chapel.