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Debate About Hillsborough's Transportation Future Continues At Cafe Con Tampa

May 24, 2019

Presenters at a Café Con Tampa event Friday talked about how they want Hillsborough County to spend transportation funds, particularly future revenue from the higher sales tax voters passed last fall.

Most of the time they talked about not wanting any rail service.

The presenters, Dr. Jim Davidson and engineer Karen Jaroch, are calling on county leaders to spend more money on expanding roads and improving the bus system.

They also argued more should be done to benefit residents of unincorporated Hillsborough County rather than focusing most projects in the city of Tampa.

Davidson said he's concerned funds from the All For Transportation sales tax will go to rail instead, which he and Jaroch said is failing across the country due to high operational costs and reduced ridership.

"It wasn't advertised as a rail plan during the referendum, but all the mayoral candidates have already vowed that they want to have rail built, for economic reasons not necessarily transportation reasons, and that's going to affect a great many people in the city,” Davidson said following the presentation.

“We want it [money] spent on buses, which will help the people it [the referendum] was originally intended to do, the people in East Tampa, urban core and things like that.”

Proposals for light rail even among transit advocates have more recently taken a backseat to plans for express bus service both within the county and regionally connecting Tampa to St. Petersburg in Pinellas County and Wesley Chapel in Pasco County.

But Tampa Mayor Jane Castor does want to activate the CSX rail lines from Port Tampa to USF, something Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith supports.

"That is very inexpensive compared to widening a road," she said.

Smith said she agreed with some of the things said during the discussion at Café Con Tampa but said others were “way off.”

“I think the implication that transit is subsidized by the state and economically unfeasible, as was made here today, is one of the things I disagree with vehemently,” she said.

Hillsborough county isn't spending funds from the new 1% sales tax yet because its currently being challenged in court.

Davidson said he hopes the court will rule to stop the tax because he doesn’t think the referendum allows for enough flexibility in terms of how the money should be spent.

Karen Jaroch recently spoke in support of Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White’s lawsuit against the transit sale tax at a hearing earlier this month.

The one-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects was approved by 57% of voters, or 282,753 residents, in the November 2018 general election.