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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Columnists

Otto: More talk, little action as gridlock grinds on

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It won’t be easy, but you might want to keep a close eye on this one.

There they were on Wednesday, the assembled members of the Hillsborough County Commission at their regular meeting. Topping the agenda once again was the issue of mass transit: how best to move people from point A to point anywhere, not just in Hillsborough County but in the Tampa Bay region.

At least the region should have been a part of the discussion but was noticeably absent.

The issue of mass transit, or as we more fondly call it around here, gridlock, is nothing new. It’s just that it has gone from irritating to dangerously miserable.

If you happen to be anyone who has tried to get from your house to anywhere in the region, you must have wondered where all of those other people came from. There are residents in places such as New Tampa, Lutz, Carrollwood and Westchase who automatically bring along bag lunches to snack on in their cars as they wait in seemingly immovable lines of traffic on every artery in the region.

Unfortunately the “fix,” whether it comes in the form of rail, better bus service, road improvements or rickshaws, is going to cost money — probably an extraordinary amount if we do it right. And the politicians are putting themselves in charge of the fix.

Go back to 1999, when the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority wanted to build a 28.5-mile light-rail system with a startup cost estimated at $575 million. They said they could have it running by 2008 with connections to the University of South Florida, the airport, downtown, Port Tampa and the West Shore Business District. Criticized as a “boondoggle,” you may have noticed it never happened.

In 2000, the “Committee of 99,” given marching orders by the county to come up with a comprehensive transportation plan, spent month after month holding meetings across the county and came up with a real plan.

The members presented it to the commission, which thanked them for their service and then ignored the whole billion-dollar proposal.

Another effort, in 2010, with a largely different commission, came back with more babble-speak by the commissioners, who seemingly ignored all of the studies calling for a comprehensive system not completely dependent on light rail.

Afraid of their own political shadows, they passed it off to the people with a referendum that deservedly had no chance and was overwhelmingly defeated.

So here we are again, with a new group headed by politicians who will be asked to come back with real deadlines and proposals. Surprisingly, considering this board’s tendency to spend hours on a topic when it doesn’t have any answers, the commissioners only spent 45 minutes listening to a consultant before approving the formation of this new transportation study group.

You can only wish them the best, but at the same time remember to keep your gas tank full in case you get caught in that gridlock outside your driveway.

It isn’t going away anytime soon.

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