With 78 days before Hillsborough transit (light rail) tax goes before voters, questions remain

Those concerns were exacerbated after the HART board listened to Jeff Boothe, from the Washington D.C. law offices of Holland & Knight.  In a nutshell, Boothe said that there is a great deal of uncertainty about how much federal funding might be available for Hillsborough County through the Federal Transit Administration. He spoke at times in  transportation-speak, prompting HART chair Ron Govin at the end of his presentation to ask if he could "simplify" what he had just told him and his colleagues.

Boothe discussed the uncertainty of how much funding is in transportation appropriations, and said one reason was because of the declining number of federal earmarks.  He said that the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA)currently has several projects listed where they will provide a 50/50 match.  He said the projects that will move forward in the pipeline are those that have solid local funding sources.

HART's CEO David Armijo added that currently there are "only a dozen transit agencies gobbling up New Start money" (New Start is the FTA's main for supporting local and implemented capital investments).  He said that Phoenix and Charlotte are currently in that pool for funding, and "we have to get in the pool."

Holland & Knight's Boothe also said that there isn't enough money in another pot of federal funds, the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is supported by the 18.4 cent federal gas tax, which he says isn't sustainable (recently Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the idea of raising that tax, which has remained at 18.4 cents since 1993, is "off the table."

Commissioner Ferlita said at the end of the meeting that it was hard to lobby for the referendum when there was so much uncertainty about it.  "Some of these things we should have addressed," she said with some frustration, adding that "I preach transparency...the more specifics the better."

After the meeting David Singer, Moving Hillsborough Forward, the group that is advocating for the approval of the transit tax, said in a statement:

"It’s more crucial that we get this right, rather than get this quickly.

Voters need to allow the experts time to complete this study, and the rail routes have been narrowed down to a few clear choices already."

Also at today's meeting, HART published information regarding three routes from what they call the Northeast corridor, and two going west on I-275.

HART and its consultant did release today further details comparing three alternative routes between the northeast and downtown and two between downtown and the airport.  They were packed with information on the costs of building those lines, and how much it would cost to maintain them annually.

Click here to see a HART map of the propose light rail area.

As it was reported by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) members at Monday's meeting that the planned first route for the proposed light rail system in Hillsborough County wouldn't be decided upon until November, concerns were expressed that there would not be enough information for voters to decide about the one cent transit tax when they go to the polls on November 2.

HART board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita expressed concerns that the lack of a finished plan to present to voters come November 2 could derail the one cent transit tax.

"This has always concerned me," the Commissioner and mayoral candidate said. "There are a lot of variables that we don't have nailed yet."  Ferlita spoke after Ron Rotella, the Executive Director of the Westshore Alliance, expressed concerns that the community would not know about which will be the preferred first route to be constructed of the light rail system until November.

HART's Mary Shavalier, HART's Chief of Planning & Program Development, announced that there will be two public hearings on the plan on September 25 and September 30.  There will be other community meetings conducted in September.  That public reaction would come back before HART officials in October, she explained, and then the decision about what route to go forward first with would be decided on in November.

That will be after Hillsborough County voters go to the polls to vote, however, and Commissioner Ferlita, who stressed today that despite her serious concerns she remains a supporter of the project, says that the lack of a detailed plan at this time will only feed into the narrative threaded by opponents that voters will be voting on a measure that nobody is exactly what it will do.


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