Public input sought on paying for light rail
May 27, 2009
Hillsborough County's Transportation Task Force will hit the road this week and next month to gauge interest in mass transit and whether citizens would be willing to pay for a light-rail system.
"I think we need to understand what the community's views are on these plans and whether there is support for a referendum," task force member and Tampa City Council Chairman Tom Scott said.
Thirteen town hall-style meetings are scheduled from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., starting Thursday at Webb Middle School, 6035 Hanley Road, and ending June 30 at Temple Terrace City Hall.
The meetings are intended to gauge public interest in transit plans by three agencies - the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority - as well as whether the public would back a 1-cent increase in the sales tax to fund transit.
The first hour will be reserved for citizens to look over the plans; the next hour is for officials to discuss the plans and other transportation issues, and the last hour is to answer questions and take comment. Representatives of the three agencies and the state Department of Transportation will attend.
"A lot of this is informing the public about the plans, but more so listening to what the public has to say," said Ned Baier, transportation planning manager for the county's Planning and Growth Management Department.
Task Force and County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said citizens won't be obligated to speak only about mass transit but can bring up any transportation infrastructure issue. He expects at least some will want to bring up the sales tax question.
"I think it's a reasonable assumption that it will come up," he said. "But I would also say that the intent here is to get input from the public about how we can improve the quality of life for folks in their communities with respect to transportation."
Officials are talking about putting a question on the ballot in 2010 to ask voters to back a sales tax for transit, including a light rail system between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa. Most Florida counties use sales taxes, gas taxes or a combination to pay for their transit systems.
County officials say a decision about whether to move forward with a referendum won't be made until the end of the year, when the task force makes its recommendation, but already they're studying how the ballot question would be phrased.
Already the task force has recommended nearly $500 million worth of road and intersection improvements. It also asked that the county award HART $40 million to create a high-speed bus system on Fletcher and Nebraska avenues.
Find out more about the meetings at: www.hillsboroughcounty .org/transtaskforce. Click on the link that says: "Public Meetings Overview, Dates and Locations"
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