Joe Henderson: Hillsborough County traffic gets worse, but we knew that - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Hillsborough County traffic gets worse, but we knew that

I didn’t need U.S. Census data to tell me that Hillsborough County traffic has gotten much worse in the last five years because, well, I live here, and I can confirm it stinks.

Anecdotally, if you want to know how bad it is, just drive along State Road 60 in Brandon by the mall on a Saturday afternoon. You’ll get there, eventually … maybe.

Start. Stop. Stay stopped. Inch forward. Oh crap, need to get into the turn lane. Red light. Stop. And pray that isn’t an accident up ahead.

Even so, it’s always good to have a backup, which Florida Politics reporter Janelle Irwin Taylor provided with her story about the county’s increasing congestion. The data is wrapped around the November sales tax referendum called All For Transportation, the latest attempt to address this car-mageddon building up throughout the county.

The referendum proposes increasing the county’s sales tax from 7 cents to 8 cents on the dollar, raising an estimated $280 million a year.

Well, this is Florida and, as any lobbyist and Republican legislator can tell you at the drop of a campaign donation, we don’t abide none of them tax increases here in the Sunshine State – especially if it’s for trans-por-ta-tion. Spit on the ground!

And the usual arguments against the proposal are being circulated along the usual pipelines with the usual motive of keeping Hillsborough County traffic bottled up so they wouldn’t have to pay another penny-per-dollar in taxes.

Opponents are convinced the tax is a Trojan horse and that a day after it passes a fancy, expensive commuter rail project will spring forth from hidden code words in the ballot initiative.

I’m guessing this is the part of the referendum language that is inspiring fear and loathing for opponents: “No less than 35 percent of the Transit Restricted Portion shall be spent on transit services that utilize exclusive transit right-of-way.”

Yeah, that could mean a rail system eventually. Or it could be dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lanes. It could be a lot of things.

Either way, to be blunt, I don’t care. If a mass transit system gets more cars off the road, I’m fine with that.

Hillsborough County traffic has been getting worse for a lot longer than just five years as thousands upon thousands of people keep moving here. That seems to be the part of this story the no-tax crowd overlooks. They see a tax generating multi-billions of dollars and automatically assume there it will be fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse.

The part of the equation they don’t consider is what happens if we keep shooting down every attempt to address this. People aren’t going to stop moving here.

And what will they find?

Remember the earlier reference to State Road 60 in Brandon?

In May 2017, the Florida Department of Transportation embarked on a project to widen that beastly thoroughfare to six lanes from 78th Street to west of Falkenburg Road, with medians, better drainage, bike lanes, and sidewalks. Estimated cost: $21.1 million.

Since construction began, trying to navigate through cones, shifting lanes and drivers pushing for the slightest open space with the vigor of a NASCAR driver on the last lap at Daytona has frequently become a white-knuckle experience that never seems to end.

Estimated completion time: late this year.

That’s about 18 months overall, assuming there are no delays.

And, pssst … for all that aggravation, we will have paid for something that might be better for a little while, but will soon be inadequate, as most road projects here quickly prove to be.

The Census data confirms that the solutions that have been attempted haven’t worked. It’s impossible for the state and county to pave their way out of this. I would have thought even the opponents would have figured that out by now.

I guess not.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

1 Comment

  1. ” Years ago, politicians and transit agencies would sometimes say that a transit project would reduce congestion, though most are now smart enough not to make that claim.

    To my knowledge, and correct me if I’m wrong, no transit project or service has ever been the clear direct cause of a substantial drop in traffic congestion. So claiming that a project you favor will reduce congestion is unwise; the data just don’t support that claim.”

    The above is a quote from Jarrett Walker, a world leading expert in transit, the person responsible for redesigning Richmond’s bus system. The new director of TBARTA is currently the director of the transit authority in Richmond. Pat Kemp was going to invite him to audit HART’s Premium Transit Study.

    The MPO’s own numbers show that with AFT’s sales tax plan, the man in the picture of the flyer in your column will; spend more time in his car away from his family, all measures of congestion will get worse and that CO2 emissions and particulate matter will get worse causing more heart and lung disease. Something I know a little bit about. This was never about transporting people. This is about money and the value capture at stake in the city of Tampa. Hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars.
    Present Mobility Fees will be cut in half in unincorporated Hillsborough county causing more sprawl. 50% of the sales tax revenue in one way or another will be spent within the city of Tampa on rail/bus services , roads and trails, when they only have 27% of the county population.
    About 66-73% of the sales tax revenue will be paid by the people outside the city limits and won’t get a thank you card. If you doubt any of this I would be glad to sit down with you and should you where in the MPO’s own studies this is FACT. Joe you are part of the greatest con job and rail robbery in history and it doesn’t have to happen. There is an Alternative Transportation plan that has already been vetted by the BOCC does at least 80% of the MPO plan and doesn’t raise taxes. It does use value capture so the taxpayer gets spared. Just from a pure cost/benefit stand point the people can pay $9 billion dollars or keep the $9 billion and get just about the same thing. I thought you were smarter than this.

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