County staff scrambles to fix transportation problems

By PENNY FLETCHER

trafficAll Florida counties have been hit with the responsibility for fixing the transportation problems that are caused by new development since 2011 when the State Legislature passed a bill dropping many developer requirements.

A similar bill was passed earlier, in 2009, but declared unconstitutional by a Circuit Court Judge in Tallahassee. However, in 2011, the Legislature passed it, saying it would spur a slow economy.

Until then, developers had to pay for things including schools, parks, and roads. Now they don’t.

But many projects had already begun, and certain developers were given “credits” that will take the county years to repay.

Still, Hillsborough County staff has to fix the transportation problems of needing new roads; needing improved roads; fixing collapsing roads and bridges; filling potholes; and a plethora of other problems that affect drivers’ safety every day.

Hillsborough still has much undeveloped land, especially in South County, that is considered coastal, so it was especially affected.

With 660,000 people projected to move into Hillsborough by 2040 — 230,000 by 2020 — the county’s transit “problem-solving groups,” including GoHillsborough, HARTline and several divisions of the county’s Public Works Department, are working diligently to find solutions.

The Observer News has been covering this in two separate series; one series about the dropping of developers’ regulations, and the second, about a suggested way to fix the problem called a “mobility fee.”

The mobility fee would not be able to help with parks or schools, but could be used for any mode of transportation, including roads, streets, sidewalks, walking paths and bike lanes, said Michael Williams, Transportation Planning and Development Division Director.

Separate meetings have been held regularly with citizens and developers, and several in the County Commission boardroom with both groups attending, as was the case March 24.

Lucia Garsys, chief administrator of Development and Infrastructure Services, explained in a telephone interview March 25 that county staff has requested Commissioners to ready an ordinance that can be read to citizens and developers at a workshop April 6.

“We are still working on some issues related to the categories of the fees themselves, and also projects that we can consider grandfathered [i.e., the ones where developers have an investment already but have not completed their projects],” she added.

But there are only certain areas of the county these developers can use their credits, and this worries citizens like Sun City Center resident Ed Barnes, who said, “If they can only use their credits in certain areas, what happens to the road repairs and need for widening and even new roads in other areas where we already live?”

Others who voiced their fears were members of the local Sierra Club.

“The overall transportation-funding framework since the legislation changed is not helping now because we have already received more than $200 million dollars that were paid by developers.”

Now the county has to figure a way to reimburse the developers and still get the roadwork done.

The proposed “mobility fee” would be voted upon in two phases: one, a basic (transparent) fee that is the same for all who are building the same type of development; will not be based on size or type of business, but by how much traffic the development will generate in road miles.

It has been said right along that one road mile is like building 10 fire stations. In other words, it is very, very expensive.

The second phase of the mobility fee is to create job-incentive projects, Garsys said. “To attract the type of businesses that will put our residents to work.”

Staff has requested County Commissioners to have the ordinance drawn and be ready to vote on it at its meeting April 20. The public will be allowed to comment before the vote. Meetings in the boardroom at County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, usually begin around 1:30  p.m.

“State legislation requires counties wait 90 days after a vote is passed before implementation,” said Garsys. “We have asked that a January [2017] date be set to begin.”

* People who wish to see other stories leading up to this one may go to www.observernews.net and search, using the terms “Penny Fletcher, 2015.”

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