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Hillsborough traffic significantly worse than five years ago, bolstering transit push

Hillsborough County drivers spend about 10 hours more in their cars going to and from work now than they did five years ago, according to recently released Census data.

The yearly data show commuters in Hillsborough County spend an average of 28.3 minutes per day in their cars.

“We don’t want to waste more time and money sitting in traffic, but that is where we are,” said Tyler Hudson, chair of All for Transportation.

“And with more than 700,000 more people expected to move to Hillsborough County in the next 30 years, we are facing a crisis that is only going to get worse,” he added. “In November, voters can vote ‘yes’ on implementing a transportation plan that will reduce congestion, make our roads safer, and improve our overall quality of life.”

The All For Transportation referendum would raise the local sales tax in Hillsborough County to 8 percent from 7 percent.

It would raise about $280 million per year to fund new and enhanced transit options as well as transportation improvements like incorporating timed traffic signals, better roads and bridges, and pedestrian and cyclist safety improvements.

The data shows more than 80 percent of Hillsborough County’s 623,000 drivers commute to and from work alone. Less than 2 percent each use public transportation, walk or ride a bike.

Only 8.9 percent carpool, the 2016 data shows. In 2011, only 79.9 percent of drivers drove to work alone while nearly 10 percent carpooled.

The data supports what Hillsborough County commuters already know: There are more cars on the road and traffic continues to get worse.

The All for Transportation referendum would put 45 percent of proceeds into the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to enhance the county’s underfunded bus network and use for new transit options. While the referendum doesn’t lay out exactly what those transit options would be, it could be used for anything from on-demand transit to streetcars, bus rapid transit or rail.

In addition to the newly released data, NRIX, Inc., a global transportation analytics company, named Tampa one of the top 100 larger cities in the world — worse than the same company ranked Tampa last year.

All for Transportation is running a grassroots campaign ground game, utilizing community volunteers to knock on doors and talk to voters. The flexibility of the referendum language means that volunteers can cater their message based on an individual community’s needs.

For example, someone talking to Brandon voters could highlight the ability to increase transportation technologies like smart traffic lights and road sensors that keep private vehicular traffic flowing and reduce congestion.

The campaign’s fundraising strategies aren’t exactly grassroots. The group has brought in its nearly $1 million haul so far from a handful of wealthy donors.

Meanwhile, in the urban centers surrounding downtown Tampa, volunteers could tout increased access to transit and increased service frequency for existing options.

Still, the campaign has a steep climb. Voters in Hillsborough rejected a similar referendum in 2010. Pinellas voters soundly rejected a one-penny transit referendum in 2014, and in 2016 Hillsborough County Commissioners rejected the idea of a half-percent sales tax referendum after a community backlash.

Worse still for the campaign, the Hillsborough County School Board voted to place its own half-percent sales tax increase on the same November ballot. Some supporters worry voters will feel forced to choose between transportation or education because an 8.5 percent sales tax is too much of a burden on residents.

The campaign has said they hope voters recognize the need for both initiatives.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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