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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.

Written By

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.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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