By MARK SHARPE
Published: Apr 26, 2006
Hillsborough County has reached a precipitous point in its transformation from sleepy community to bustling metropolis. Consider these facts from the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission:
• Hillsborough County is expected to grow by approximately 385,000 people by 2025.
• Our population increase of 385,000 is equivalent to the current populations of the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City combined.
• The public school system will enroll 6,000 to 6,500 new students each year.
Hillsborough County is investing significant resources to transform our economy from low-wage and service-oriented to high-tech and biotechnology/information-driven. This high-wage employment base will create an expectation for higher levels of mass transit as people look for time-saving, cost-efficient ways to get to and from work. Soaring fuel prices already have commuters seeking alternative forms of transportation.
That's why our community must develop and implement a long-range, multimodal transportation plan, as well as create a first-rate transportation grid that will support the forecast growth and address people's desires to save money at the pump.
This can be accomplished by taking the work completed by the HARTline Study Group and broadening its scope to address our community's long-range transportation needs.
Any solution must incorporate the entire county and reflect the significant population growth in southern portions of the county, Brandon, New Tampa, Westchase and Town 'N Country.
Indeed, the planning commission projects the majority of our population and jobs will be in the unincorporated part of the county by 2025.
A successful transportation system will connect our urban core with our burgeoning unincorporated county. It will require partnerships with our major municipalities and enhanced regional cooperation facilitated by the Tampa Bay Partnership.
How do we get there?
First, we must continue to work closely with the development community to upgrade existing failed roads as we pave the way for new growth. Public and private partnerships also play a critical role. Toward this goal, the county commission will invest approximately $1.1 billion for operations and capital improvements through 2013.
Next, the county needs to consider additional toll roads that will connect the entire Tampa Bay region and decrease congestion on county and city roads. The Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority is currently spending $469 million for the Brandon Parkway; local feeder roads and gateway projects; the elevated, reversible express lanes along the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway; and the downtown Tampa access at Meridian Street.
We ought to be working collaboratively with the expressway authority, as well as the Florida Turnpike Enterprise and the Florida Department of Transportation, which has set aside $781 million for road projects in our district, encompassing Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Manatee counties.
Finally, we must plan for the future. Let's begin with smart, corridor-preservation projects that will safeguard land for future transit needs.
We need to examine bus rapid transit and all other forms of transportation for moving large numbers of people throughout our community. Plus, we should look at vast improvements for our sidewalks, trails, bike lanes and neighborhoods that will foster walking communities and mixed-use activities, thereby decreasing motor vehicle traffic.
Hillsborough County is a vibrant, diverse community that more than 1.1 million people call home. We need to begin creating a progressive transportation system that will afford our citizens a high quality of life and accommodate the staggering growth predicted for our future.
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