Hillsborough Co. eyes tax hike to fund roads

Posted at 6:28 PM, Sep 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-28 18:28:50-04
You probably spend a lot of time stuck in traffic everyday, and there's proof of it.  Studies show Tampa Bay has some of the worst congestion in the country, with an average half-hour commute, which is longer than the national average.  That's why Hillsborough County is pushing for a tax increase to pay for better roads.
Tampa's Westchase community is growing, becoming home to more people, and more traffic.
"It's not just at rush hour times, but really midday, mid-afternoon.  We're seeing more and more traffic backing up," said Joe Odda, Westchase Community Association board member.
So a lot of people living in the area are thrilled an initiative called "Go Hillsborough" includes several projects that would help create alternate routes, like the extension of Citrus Park Drive, aimed at easing up congestion.  In total, the proposal calls for a half-cent sales tax increase, which could raise $3.5 billion for hundreds of projects countywide.  The goals are to improve maintenance of existing roads, build new ones, and expand public transit.
"It's a little bit of something for everybody," said Eric Johnson, Hillsborough Co. assistant county administrator.
But not everyone is convinced, and some worry about what's not included in the plan.
"I'm the person who believes in rail.  I think if we don't start now, we're already behind the eight ball.  I don't think putting extra buses on the already clogged roads is going to help," said Westchase resident Rebecca McGoye.
Hillsborough Co. is also dogged by a previous failed sales tax hike attempt and other failed efforts in neighboring counties.  So this go around, it's holding dozens of public meetings,  hoping to get a really good handle on exactly what people do and don't want to solve what's being dubbed a critical need for transportation improvements.
"The key is to get it right.  So we want to make sure we're listening to them, giving them what they're looking for," Johnson said.
County leaders say the process will also help them figure out whether a sales tax hike would have the support needed before it ever goes on the ballot next November.  But one thing seems clear, without new money to fix roads, traffic and the city's future growth, could come to a screeching halt.
"We cannot find this to be a bearable situation much longer," said Odda.
If a half-percent sales tax goes to voters and is approved next fall, the county says there are at least $80 million worth of road improvements it could do right away.
You can find a full listing of the proposed projects and future meetings about the initiative at