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Residents Invited To Weigh In On Hillsborough Traffic, Which Has Increased 21 Percent

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL — It could be worse. There are 19 cities in the United States that rank higher than Tampa for traffic congestion, according to the navigation tech company TomTom.

But that’s little comfort to the thousands of drivers who wait in traffic in Hillsborough County an average of 33 hours a year.

Following the Hillsborough County Commission’s foiled attempt to enact a 1-cent surtax to pay for transportation improvements, county commissioners are now seeking alternatives for easing congestion on local roadways.

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In February 2021, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the controversial 1-cent transportation surtax approved by 57 percent of Hillsborough County voters in a November 2018 referendum.

The referendum was placed on the ballot after the All For Transportation group, composed mostly of Tampa business developers and leaders, collected the required number of signatures to place the referendum on the ballot by petition, outlining specific improvements to be funded with the tax.

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Afterward, however, County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit, arguing that the referendum violated state law by allowing a special-interest group to dictate which transportation projects would be funded with tax money. Those decisions, he said, should be made by elected officials.

Additionally, he claimed that All For Transportation misled voters in unincorporated Hillsborough County into believing it would help improve streets in their areas. In reality, the bulk of the money would go to city of Tampa projects, he said.

The 30-year transportation measure would have added a penny on the dollar to the sales tax and raise about $276 million per year for transportation improvements including sidewalks, bike paths, transportation alternatives, repaving roads and upgraded intersections and traffic signals.

White said none of the tax money would have gone to building the new roads desperately needed in the unincorporated county.

Transportation Funding Dilemma

Now county commissioners are tasked with finding new ways to fund the $423 million in unfunded projects in the county’s 10-year transportation plan, and they’re asking residents for help.

The county is hosting several open houses over the next few weeks to get input from residents.

Currently, the county funds transportation improvements using impact fees from new development, property taxes and the Community Investment Tax, a 30-year sales tax that ends in 2026.

Sources of revenue being considered include a gas tax, an extension of the Community Investment Tax, raising property taxes, increasing impact fees and adding a 10 percent tax on utilities.

Commissioners have also discussed putting their own transportation surtax referendum on the ballot. White said he wouldn’t be opposed to such a referendum if the transportation spending plan is “well-balanced and treats the two-thirds of our residents who live in unincorporated Hillsborough County equitably.”

“The way in which this referendum was done and the fact that this unlawful tax levy was collected for over two years are both surprisingly reckless,” he said. “If another referendum is sent to the people for a vote, it should be done in accordance with state law.”

During the transportation open houses, residents will be able to provide feedback to the county on transportation priorities in their district. Their suggestions will be forwarded to the county commission to be discussed at an upcoming transportation workshop.

  • The District 1 workshop took place Feb. 9 at the Jan. K. Platt Regional Library.
  • The District 2 workshop is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Northdale Recreation Center, 15550 Spring Pine Drive.
  • The District 3 workshop will take place Tuesday, March 1 at 6 p.m. at the Lesley “Les” Miller Jr. All People’s Community Park and Life Center, 6105 E. Sligh Ave.
  • And the District 4 workshop is set for Thursday, March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Riverview Public Library, 9951 Balm Riverview Road.

Residents without digital access are encouraged to call the county’s main information line at 813 272-5900.

More Growth, More Traffic

Meanwhile, 1,459,762 now call Hillsborough County home, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

The Hillsborough County metropolitan area experienced a 1.7 percent population growth in the past year and is expected to grow 3.3 percent annually over the next three years, according to the real estate investment marketplace website, Roofstock, which says more than 126,000 new residents are forecast to move to the Tampa metropolitan area by 2024.

Population growth is anticipated to increase 25 percent over the next 20 years, bringing the total population to more than 3.8 million people by 2040.

According to TomTom, Hillsborough County is already ranked 201 among the most congested cities in the world.

In 2021, the congestion level in Tampa increased 21 percent, meaning it took 21 percent longer to reach a destination in Tampa, a 3 percent increase over 2020.

The highest congestion level recorded in Tampa was 30 percent. That was on Oct. 29, 2021.

TomTom

The good news is the improvements made by the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the Department of Transportation including traffic signs using smart technology, intersection improvements, road extensions and road widenings have improved congestion during the past two years, according to TomTom.

A trip that would have taken 12 to 16 minutes in 2019 now takes seven to 12 minutes.

And the time it took to commute during rush hour decreased significantly since 2019 when commuters spent 76 hours, or three days and four hours a year, stuck in rush-hour traffic.

That’s been reduced to one day, nine hours a year.

TomTom

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