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Hillsborough Leaders Engage Public On Transportation

When local residents dream of transportation Utopia in Hillsborough County, what exactly do they see?

Do they see roads repaved and potholes filled? Widened interstates with commuter lanes? Bridges repaired? More connections between neighborhoods and cities? Expansion of rapid transit bus service? Automated "people movers"?

Is light rail on anyone's mind, for or against? And where do they dream the money will be found? 

Hillsborough County elected officials, community leaders and a soon-to-be-hired transportation consultant will begin a listening campaign with a series of public meetings soon after Labor Day.

A report on the findings will be brought in October to Hillsborough County's Transportation Policy Leadership Group, a committee of the seven county commissioners, mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace, and the chairman of HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit). 

"We're not selling anything, but we want to be able to bring back something that will be useful to you," says Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. He spoke to the group on August 12 before a packed county commission chamber.

Documents and a video show the magnitude of transportation problems facing the county. 

Estimates for roads, bridges, trails and sidewalks in all parts of the county is pegged at $4.3 billion. The cost of repaving roadways alone is estimated at $745 million. Projects for walk/bike trails and sidewalks is about $680 million.

Depending on chosen options, mass-transit could be another $6 billion. 

Funding could come through a one cent sales tax that county commissioners appear ready to put to a referendum in 2016. If approved, estimates are for more than $6 billion to be collected over 30 years.

Ideas include widening five miles of Cypress Avenue; bus rapid transit and a rail option between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa; bus rapid transit on U.S. 60 to and from Brandon; and, a water ferry from Gibsonton to MacDill with later expansion to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Policy planners clearly have in mind the political thumping that voters gave to a light rail referendum nearly four years ago. Voters then complained about the lack of specifics.

"That was very muddy. That's what happened to it," says County Commissioner Les Miller."We want to make sure it's crystal clear."

County Commissioner Victor Crist is concerned about time constraints in reaching out to the public by October. "I'm not sure we have enough time to sell this," he says.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is ready to forge ahead. "We've got to have a game," says Buckhorn. "I don't know any other way to play than full throttle. ...I can tell you sooner is better than later."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Mike Merrill, Les Miller, Victor Crist, Hillsborough County; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Next Urbanism On Tap: 'Where Do You Come From?'

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at New World Brewery in Ybor City on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, starting at 5:30 p.m. This open mic format event is designed to generate constructive conversations about current ideas and trends that are shaping Tampa.

The event entitled "Where Do You Come From?'' is the third in a three-part series that started last fall. It will focus on understanding some critical questions such as: Why does one choose to live in a particular neighborhood? How do you know you are in your neighborhood? How should the neighborhood change and what should stay the same? Seeking answers to some of these key questions will help us understand the issues and challenges in our neighborhoods and the role these building blocks play in our City.

In the event, the organizers intend to engage attendees with innovative tools like preparing ''mind maps.'' Mind Maps are people's perception about their neighborhoods and the places they visit on a regular basis. It may be a rough hand drawn map or an image, or text, which conveys how one associates and perceives his or her neighborhood.

The organizers encourage people to share their photos and things they like about their neighborhood by visiting Urbanism on Tap's online Facebook page. People can also use apps available on smart phones to make mind maps and post it online.

Overall, the intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance the ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

Urbanism on Tap is an event focused on generating a dialogue within the community led by the Urban Charette and CNU Tampa Bay. Moderators and attendees can share their stories related to the topic of the day. Every event is open to the public, and all are invited to attend and share their views.

Following the event, everyone is encouraged to continue the conversation online through the Urbanism on Tap's Facebook page or website.

Venue: New World Brewery, Ybor City (1313 8th Ave. Tampa, FL 33605)
Date and Time: Tuesday, January 14, from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.
For more information, email Ashly Anderson

Writer: Vinod Kadu
Source: Erin Chantry and Ashly Anderson, CNU Tampa Bay

Plan Hillsborough's Future With Imagine 2040

A new effort by the Hillsborough County Planning Commission and the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization is encouraging Hillsborough County residents to participate in discussions about the future of both land use and transportation planning -- and you don't even have to leave your house.

The Imagine 2040 effort marks the first time in the history of Hillsborough County that the Planning Commission and Organization have been able to combine the land use and transportation plans together in one planning process. The 2040 Transportation and Comprehensive Plans will cover Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and Hillsborough County.

"This effort is meant to be more wide-range, enabling citizens to participate in the planning process without ever physically having to attend a meeting by using computer and social media technology,'' says Executive Director Hillsborough County MPO Ray Chiaramonte. "We are very excited about this effort and the chance to really hear our citizens' opinions in a more comprehensive way so we can craft a plan that truly reflects the desires of our citizens.''

By 2040, Hillsborough County is expected to have up to 600,000 new residents and about 400,000 new jobs. According to Chiaramonte, Imagine 2040's goal is to work together to turn the challenges that come with growth into opportunities for a thriving future.

How should we grow? By spreading new residents and jobs throughout the county? By focusing on growth in the centers we've already developed and creating new job centers along our major highways? This is your opportunity to design the future of Hillsborough County.

"We're at an important crossroads. Do we want to be a true national leader for job creation and livability for a new generation of young, well-educated high tech workers that can provide the spark we need to become a competitive player with the top communities in this country and in the world?'' asks Chiaramonte. "We have so much going for us without doing a lot that it's certainly within our possibilities to be a mecca for high-paying jobs. We can play it safe and be comfortably mediocre or we can strategically plan for taking our assets and building upon them to create a truly unique, special community for our future and the future of generations to come.''

Ultimately, Imagine 2040 is expected to create a blueprint for the future of Hillsborough County as leaders take a leap forward to get things done. By leveraging federal planning dollars and combining them with local funds, a more comprehensive and unified planning process is available; this gives the county the opportunity to address issues while reaching more residents.

"Together, we can develop a plan that has all the aspects that people say they want and, by participating, they can help craft and represent what they believe our community should look like. Residents will have a plan that they helped craft and can believe in rather than a top-down approach where they just react to what planners think that the citizens want,'' says Chiaramonte. "This effort is the most ambitious public participation process regarding long-range planning that we have ever attempted in Hillsborough County.''

Several scenarios for growth and infrastructure will be drafted and circulated for public comment later in the year.

So, how should we grow? What is important to you? Click here to learn more about Imagine 2040 and how you can get involved today.

Writer: Alexis Chamberlain
Source: Ray Chiaramonte, Hillsborough County

HART MetroRapid North-South To Begin Services In Hillsborough

A new HART system aims to speed up connections from downtown Tampa to northern parts of Hillsborough County.

HART's MetroRapid will begin operations on Tuesday, May 28th, improving travel along selected service corridors, increasing service reliability and speed of transit. HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia says the system will make transit use easier for Hillsborough County residents.

“Added features like ticket vending machines will provide travel time savings because you don't have to wait for folks to pay on board,” Mejia says. “Riders will buy their tickets at the machines and just board directly.”

In addition to ticket vending machines, some of the system's new features include fewer stops; improved travel time, including 10-minute frequencies; GPS-enabled signal prioritization which will hold green lights longer and shorten red lights for the sleek new HART vehicles; and real-time display boards, allowing travelers to know when buses will be arriving.

The first rapid transit system in the area, the North-South MetroRapid will run north along Nebraska Avenue from the downtown neighborhoods and east on Fletcher Avenue to Telecom Park, west of Interstate 75; the area totals a 17.5 mile corridor.

According to Mejia, several studies were done before MetroRapid was planned, showing that the North-South corridor is one of the busiest with ridership activity.

Construction began on the North-South MetroRapid project in August 2013, totaling approximately $31 million, while the traffic signal priority project is cost an estimated $2 million. HART reported that the project came in under budget by $5.7 million, which will be reallocated back into Hillsborough County for infrastructure needs, if desired.

Both projects were paid for by Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax (CIT).

“Ridership continues (to increase) for HART, and has been for the past several years," Mejia says. "With this form of rapid transit being introduced, we're on track to meet transportation needs for residents of the county."

Currently, HART is continuing to make progress and expand the MetroRapid services, including the the East-West project which will connect Tampa International Airport, the Westshore Business District and the HART Netpark bus transfer center at Hillsborough Avenue and 56th Street; the 16.4-mile East-West route will also include connections to the North-South Line at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia, HART

HART MetroRapid Transit Seeks Public Input, Tampa

As HART makes way on the new MetroRapid North-South project, offering increased efficiency and expedited travel via public transit connections from downtown Tampa to northern parts of Hillsborough County, the MetroRapid East-West project is beginning to see development.

Currently in the Project Development and Environmental (PD&E) Study phase, HART is encouraging residents to provide input on the first rapid transit system in the Hillsborough County area as additional funding for the final design and construction phases of the project are pursued; HART recently reported that the project is under budget by $1.1 million from the original $3 million estimate.

HART began the PD&E Study of MetroRapid East-West in October 2011.

Focusing on frequent service, faster travel time and an overall better reliability of services, MetroRapid East-West will connect Tampa International Airport, the Westshore Business District and the HART Netpark bus transfer center at Hillsborough Avenue and 56th Street; the 16.4-mile East-West route will also include connections to the North-South Line at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“With this form of rapid transit being introduced, we're on track to meet transportation needs for residents of the county,” says Marcia Mejia, HART's public information officer.

The new MetroRapid system is expected to feature fewer stops; improved travel time, including 10-minute frequencies; GPS-enabled signal prioritization which will hold green lights longer and shorten red lights for the sleek new HART vehicles; ticket vending machines at major station stops to facilitate passenger boarding; and real-time display boards, allowing travelers to know when buses will be arriving.

HART recently reported that 2012 ridership was up by 4 percent -- or by nearly 600,000 trips -- from the previous year. The 2012 fiscal year marks an all-time high for HART bus ridership, breaking the annual record for the third year in a row.

“HART is on pace for even greater transformation next year, as we move forward with significant transit system improvements, including upgraded facilities, MetroRapid and a compressed natural gas fueling station,” says HART Board Chair Fran Davin.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia & Fran Davis, HART

Tampa Spay/Neuter Clinic Moves, Increases Services

If you visit the Animal Coalition of Tampa Spay/Neuter Clinic on Lemon Street on a typical day, you'll see clients braving the summer heat and storms under tents pitched in the parking lot.

Affectionately called the "waiting room,'' the tents are a temporary solution to space issues experienced by the clinic. With an average of 20,000 animals served per year, the clinic has outgrown its 3,000-square-feet space and plans to move to a new building on Gilchrist Avenue on October 9.
 
"We needed so much to come together for the building to be right,'' says Linda Hamilton, the clinic's founder and executive director.

The new building, located four blocks from the current one, was chosen because of its proximity to the existing space (to keep their dedicated staff and clients), large parking area, reasonable rent, ideal size and layout.
 
With the mission of ending unnecessary euthanasia of dogs and cats in Hillsborough County, the Spay/Neuter Clinic first opened in 2006 to provide low cost, high quality spay/neuter services to low-income residents. Since then, services have been expanded to include vaccine packages and even life-saving surgeries.

"It's because of the community's reactions to our services that moving became such a critical need,'' says Hamilton. "People bring in a pet they have saved from the street or a shelter, and they are able to give it a home because of our affordable prices.''
 
The new building will allow ACT to offer pet care classes for the public on topics such as managing feral cats and grieving the loss of a pet. They also plan to utilize more volunteers and loan space to local rescue groups for meetings.

"We want our clients to know that someone is there for them, to help them keep their animals in the home rather than surrendering them to a shelter. The building is in honor of the community, who cares and wants to see unnecessary euthanasia finally come to an end,'' says Hamilton.
 
Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Linda Hamilton, ACT Spay/Neuter Clinic

HART Breaks Ground On First Public Bus Rapid Transit, Hillsborough

MetroRapid North-South, the first public transit system of its kind in Hillbsborough County, aims to speed up travel between  downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida.

Local business and community leaders gathered with HART staff on Monday, August 6th, to celebrate the historic groundbreaking, which marks the beginning construction phase of the project. About $31 million from the Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax (CIT) will pay for the design and construction phases of the project. As of June 2012, costs of the MetroRapid N-S project are estimated to be under budget by $5.7 million.

"Ridership continues (to increase) for HART, and has been for the past several years, and with this form of rapid transit being introduced, we're on track to meet transportation needs for residents of the county," says HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia. "Several studies were done before MetroRapid was planned and we found that the North-South corridor is one of the busiest with ridership activity."

Featuring elements of bus rapid transit, MetroRapid N-S will run 17.5 miles along Nebraska and Fletcher Avenues in Tampa, from the HART Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa to Telecom Park/Hidden River Corporate Park, west of Interstate 75. The new system is expected to improve travel-time savings by approximately 15 percent, using GPS-based Transit Signal Priority (TSP) technology at selected intersections to shorten red lights and lengthen green lights.

“MetroRapid N-S will connect downtown Tampa to USF -- two major employment centers,” Mejia says. “In addition, the corridor overlays what are currently the busiest routes, allowing a large portion of our ridership to benefit from faster, more frequent service.”

According to Mejia, several routes feed into the MetroRapid N-S corridor. Fewer stops along the corridor supply added convenience; local bus routes have bus stops every 750 to 1,250 feet while MetroRapid's 59 stops are spaced out about every 2,600 to 4,000 feet.

"Added features like the ticket vending machines will provide additional travel time savings because you don't have to wait for folks to pay on board," Mejia says.

A new park and ride facility is planned in Hidden River Corporate Park, serving the northeast end of the line. MetroRapid N-S construction is slated to be complete and open to Tampa Bay area residents and visitors by 2013.

In July, HART ridership was up by six percent with 60,998 more bus trips taken compared to July 2011. HART is expected to operate extra bus and streetcar service during August's Republican National Convention, providing public transportation options between Ybor City and Channelside.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia, HART

HART To Send $9M Back To Hillsborough County

After a detailed cost analysis, HART officials say they are able to reallocate almost $9 million back into Hillsborough County.

According to HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) determined that several projects were significantly under budget upon completion, allowing the money to go toward Hillsborough County infrastructure needs, if desired.

“In an era when such projects frequently incur cost overruns, it is important for HART to demonstrate that we have been and will continue to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money,” Mejia says.

Funded by Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax (CIT), a total of just more than $8.9 million is currently available for reallocation with the MetroRapid East-West project offering $1 million and the MetroRapid North-South offering approximately $5.7 million. The Brandon Park and Ride was completed with a little more than $2 million remaining. Made available by capital funding, the remaining funds cannot be reallocated toward operational costs such as bus routes.

HART also recently announced proposed changes to fares and services, addressing a number of issues including increased operational costs and decreased ad valorem revenues. These changes include raising the One-Way Cash and 1-Day Unlimited Ride Fares by about 25 cents with changes also affecting 1-Day Unlimited HARTFlex, 3-Day Unlimited, 31-Day Unlimited, 1-Day 10 Pack Unlimited and ADA Paratransit fares. Bus route and schedule changes may be made as well.

“Bus route and schedule changes proposed for November 2012 will streamline some routes while boosting service for others,” Mejia says.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia, HART

Tampa Preservation Targets Historic Homes, Hosts Workshop

Working to restore Tampa's history on a smaller scale, preserving the wood windows, original flooring and built-in bookcases of the city's oldest homes, a local nonprofit will host a Historic Homes workshop.

Established in 1973, Tampa Preservation, Inc. (TPI) is dedicated to the preservation of historic structures and neighborhoods in Tampa and Hillsborough County to educate local residents about the unique heritage.

On April 14th, TPI will host a Historic Homes Workshop to provide tips from experts on how to preserve the historic materials and resources inside of Tampa Bay's historic homes. The event will be held from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the 1927 Historic Seminole Heights United Methodist Church at 6111 N. Central Ave. in Tampa.

“Historic homeowners often wish to take a hands-on approach to restoring their houses and this workshop will offer information and advice on some of the skills required,” says TPI Marketing Director Suzanne Prieur. “The homeowner who wishes to hire professionals will come away more educated on what resources are available and how to best utilize restoration experts.”

The TPI event is free to the public, presenting three workshops every hour. A chance to interact with displayers and other historic homeowners and enjoy exhibits such as historic photos of Tampa by the Tampa Natives Show will be provided during a lunch break.

“The homes in our historic neighborhoods are beautiful,” Prieur says. “In this increasingly individualized and homogenized world, preserving neighborhood history fosters a sense of community while fostering a sense of character and emphasizing the unique history and personality of each area. It encourages people to step outside of their own lives and become a part of a greater identity and purpose.”

While TPI strongly encourages preservation efforts throughout Hillsborough County, according to Prieur, the organization has recently focused on the Tampa Heights neighborhood because of its rich historic potential.

“We've rehabilitated many homes in the area, including the revitalization of a 20-block area which we received an award from the National Trust of Historic Preservation for,” Prieur says. “Now that many of the historic neighborhoods have very strong Civic Associations, we try to work closely with them on issues that affect preservation in the entire community.”

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Suzanne Prieur, Tampa Preservation

HART To Install Shelters At Bus Stops, Hillsborough

HART has Tampa Bay residents covered: Shelters are coming soon to bus stops throughout Hillsborough County.

Thanks to a contract approved by the HART Board on August 1, approximately $360,000 will be spent on the purchase and installation of new shelters at bus stops; HART plans to install 41 shelters within the coming months.

"With inclement weather conditions endured by this area, shelters are extremely important to protecting customers from the elements," says HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia. "These shelters will make public transit easier and more convenient to use."

There are currently 3,700 bus stops throughout Hillsborough County with one in seven stops having the luxury of a shelter. Recently, HART has seen a significant increase in the amount of shelters in the Tampa Bay area. Three years ago, only one in every 15 stops were sheltered.

"HART has made a concerted effort over the past few years to increase the number of shelters at our bus stops," says Mejia. "More shelters at our stops is always good news for our customers."

Apart from the 41 approved, even more shelters may be purchased in the future should more funding become available. The contract approved is for up to $846,220 in shelter-related purchases and construction for the next two years.

For more information on HART and its services, visit the HART website.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia, HART


Temple Terrace Breaks Ground On Urban Center

After 10 years of dreaming and planning, Temple Terrace is finally breaking ground on its new downtown.

The project blends the efforts of public and private entities. The city of Temple Terrace sold 30 acres of land to the Vlass Group upon approving the master developer after an extensive bidding process. Vlass Temple Terrace, LLC has drawn up plans that paint a bustling downtown with ample commercial, residential and entertainment opportunities.

"The area is mixed use and includes residential and commercial facilities for resale in an area where young people can move in and have everything at their fingertips," says Temple Terrace Mayor Joe Affronti. "They'll have easy access to good transportation and interstates. It has a grocery store, restaurants, banking, a library and a cultural arts center, all of which should mean a lot if they're looking for convenience.

"This $160 million project is going to upgrade the entire region and enhance the value of the community," continues Affronti. "Especially for those who currently live here. It's probably the biggest project going on in the area at this time."

Mike Vlass of the Vlass Group has great things to say about Temple Terrace and its residents. "The mayor has been an incredible advocate with wonderful vision," says Vlass. It's evident residents care about their community. They wanted to do something that made sense. Sometimes people want to do projects and they don't make sense. But their vision makes sense."

Vlass is passionate about downtown redevelopment. "We are extremely sensitive to the trends in new urbanism," he says. "We have for the last 10 years gone into dense areas that have vacant, wasted spaces in ruins. We're recycling these wasted areas, tearing them down and creating something new."

Groundbreaking takes place July 2.

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Sources: Joe Affronti, City of Temple Terrace; Mike Vlass, Vlass Temple Terrace, LLC

Project Get Ready: Hillsborough County Embraces Electric Car Initiative

The Hillsborough County Commission has unanimously approved a resolution to move forward with a program that encourages the use of electrically powered vehicles.

The commission has elected to take part in Project Get Ready, a national initiative that aids cities in switching from gas-powered to electric vehicles (EVs). According to County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, the regional initiative will be led locally by the Tampa Regional Planning Council.

"Project Get Ready is a great fit for what we have already put in place and continue to expand here in Hillsborough County," says Ferlita. "Our sustainability efforts include focusing on a countywide alternative transportation vehicle plan that includes electric as well as natural gas vehicles.

According to Ferlita, the project's goals include:

* attracting original equipment manufacturers to Tampa Bay
* educating the public about the positive economic impact and potential growth in green jobs a communitywide switch to EVs may offer
* reducing vehicle and total green house gas emissions
* increasing use of alternative and/or innovative energy and decreasing dependence on traditional fuel sources

Research indicates that one electric car reduces carbon emissions by approximately 66 percent and costs less than $1 a day to drive. According to the Get Ready website, Tampa Bay is a case study in which challenges such as coordinating utilities will be addressed and hopefully serve as a best practices model for other cities to embrace electrically powered vehicles.

"Transportation is a key component," says Ferlita. "Not only for Hillsborough County but for the entire Tampa Bay region. We're looking at multimodal and I support that. But, we must also look at 'multifuel' opportunities as we move forward."

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: Rose Ferlita, Hillsborough County Commission
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