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Transportation

Mass Transit Headed Back to Hillsborough Voters in 2016?

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Hillsborough County might be on its way to having another major referendum on public transportation - in 2016.

A board made up of county commissioners and the county's three mayors unanimously agreed to move forward on a plan that would increase the size of the county's bus system, repave roads - and create the county's first light rail line.

A similar referendum was defeated at the polls in 2010, during the height of the recession.

Hillsborough County Adminstrator Mike Merrill said officials have a chance this time to change that outcome.

"From the very beginning of this process, when we began over 12 months ago, we insisted on being thorough, open and inclusive," says Merrill. "Because if we don't get this right - if we don't do this right - we'll live with the consequences well into the future."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman says officials need to be careful to allow interest to build in the plan, and get enough feedback from the people who are going to vote on it.

"If we slap together a plan and expect people to buy into it, we're what - more than 18 months away," she says, "I'm not sure it would be successful."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who sits on the board, has been one of the most vocal proponents of a light rail line to ease future congestion. In his State of the City address earlier this year, Buckhorn encouraged Tampa residents to support the Pinellas County “Greenlight” referendum, although they can not vote on the transportation funding vote in November. If passed, Pinellas would eliminate a property tax and instead add a penny sales tax to fund expanded bus service and a 24-mile light rail connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Officials at today's meeting agreed that the success of their plan could hinge on the fate of Greenlight Pinellas. Transportation officials will trot out the plan for public input over the next several months, and return with their findings to the board in October.