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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Kemp hopes to derail Hillsborough transportation proposal to get more transit



TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp plans to put up a fight for transit when the board votes Wednesday on its $812 million transportation plan.

Kemp said Tuesday she has serious concerns about how the county plans to spend that money during the next 10 years, namely that just over $1 million is earmarked for transit projects.

“We cannot continue down this path for another four years,” Kemp said. “We've got to start doing what we can to move forward on transit now.”

Kemp wants to hold off on spending about half that money, including canceling plans for a $97 million widening of Lithia Pinecrest Road. Instead, she wants to put some of it toward a Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority program that provides vans for people who want to carpool, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s pilot program that offers rides to get people to and from bus stops and a proposed ferry between south county and MacDill Air Force Base.

The rest shouldn’t be spent until Hillsborough studies all the options on the table and conducts a master plan with a vision for solving congestion problems and incorporating transit, she said.

“Why would we even commit to projecting forward $812 million until we have started to do that?” Kemp said. “It’s a poor use of our taxpayer dollars. These are precious dollars. We should be careful with them.”

Kemp,a first-year commissioner, campaigned on a promise to bring alternative modes of transportation to Hillsborough. But she was also critical of a county proposal last year to raise the sales tax by a half cent to pay for $3.6 billion in transportation improvements over the next three decades — which would’ve injected hundreds of millions of dollars into transit projects and HART — because she said the plan wasn’t well thought out.

After the proposal failed, commissioners instead pushed through a much more modest plan to set aside $600 million for transportation, but instead focused on maintenance and safety projects. Wednesday’s vote would finalize how that money is spent, along with about $212 million found from other sources.

About $276 million will go toward road maintenance, $127 million for safety projects and $346 million for congestion relief, such as widening and building new roads and improving traffic flow. The county will also have to pay some interest on debt borrowed to fast track certain projects.

“All along transit hasn’t been part of this process,”  Kemp said. “When I came onto the board, this was a train that had already left so I am trying to make sure that we have an opportunity to do what we can moving forward and inject transit into the conversation and treat it with the same consideration with how we move people around this county.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2017 3:30pm]


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