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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Transit winning fans, survey says

TAMPA — Hillsborough County residents predictably ranked traffic congestion, job creation and availability of bus or rail as top-priority planning issues in an interactive survey conducted over three months that planners have begun to analyze.

But respondents surprised planners with their willingness to pay for new infrastructure, and with their support from throughout the county to encourage growth by filling vacant lots and reviving older areas that would be near rapid transit stations.

Those points summarize findings from the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Imagine 2040 outreach campaign in which more than 3,500 participants used a sophisticated interactive survey to tell planners how the county should take shape over the next 25 years or so.

The public will get another chance to participate at a forum 5 p.m. Dec. 12 at the 26th floor meeting room of the Hillsborough County Center at 601 E. Kennedy Blvd.

Imagine 2040 results will shape next year’s updates of four comprehensive plans and the MPO’s long-range transportation plan.

The survey used three scenarios, labeled “Suburban Dream,” “Bustling Metro” and “New Corporate Centers,” to inspire discussions of financial and other trade-offs that could occur in future land use plans in a county that’s expecting 400,000 to 600,000 more residents by 2040.

If the trend to build suburban-style neighborhoods continues, there’s only room for about 67,000 new homes, accommodating about one-third of the expected growth, planners have said.

“We noted that Bustling Metro (urban development focus) had the most high marks of the three scenarios, in every area of the county,” MPO assistant executive director Beth Alden said about the survey responses.

“The more rural areas of South County and Plant City-East County were not quite as enthusiastic about Bustling Metro as the more urban areas were, but it was still the most popular scenario there, too,” she said.

“I was kind of surprised by that. I thought we’d actually see some variation in the top-rated scenario, in different parts of the county.

Among respondents’ comments supporting “Bustling Metro”: “Focuses investment, energy and resources to an area that has a bigger return-on-investment,” and “Will bring Tampa into 21st Century.”

All types of transportation improvements are desired, including rail, Alden said.

“In fact, there was only one area that didn’t give rail high marks, the Plant City-East County area,” Alden said. “Even South County thought rail was important for our future.”

Among the transportation comments: “Rail should be a component but not everywhere,” and “Toll lanes should be considered where tolls make new express lanes feasible.”

Respondents also indicated some willingness to pay for infrastructure.

“ ‘No new taxes’ actually got low marks,” Alden said. Other picks with more low ratings than high were utility and property taxes.

“The funding sources respondents were most receptive to were impact fees, tolls on new lanes, and sales tax,” she said.

Among the key results the MPO staff is analyzing:

The highest ratings for transportation choices were for smart traffic signals and better intersections, along with better sidewalks, bike lanes and trails, and commuter or light rail.

The highest levels of support for job locations were in existing job centers, redevelopment in existing industrial parks and town centers with a mix of places to work.

Most housing options were positively received, with the lowest rankings for new homes in rural areas, either on large lots or subdivisions.

The object of Imagine 2040 is broad participation without the oversimplification of wishful thinking, said Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the planning commission.

All approaches have costs and benefits, and the final plans would likely include portions of all three land-use directives, with the balance helping determine the future prosperity of the region.

MPO board members have asked that a presentation on the survey be made to the county’s Policy Leadership Group.

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