CHRISTINA BARKER: TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS BELONG TO THE PEOPLE

Blog: 18, March 2019
Christina Barker presents on All for Transportation in Philadelphia.

For a generation, Hillsborough County has struggled to provide meaningful transportation solutions to the people who live and work here. In that time, downtown Tampa has undergone an extraordinary revitalization, surrounding neighborhoods have flourished, and our suburbs have seen tremendous growth.

All the while, inaction to address our failing transportation system was excused. With each plan that was studied and shelved, our roads became increasingly dangerous, our sidewalks revealed more cracks, our streets wore down with age, and the lack of transit options continued to stifle economic progress.

In June of last year, All for Transportation launched an effort to end our community's perpetual cycle of stagnation and achieve the first step toward meaningful solutions to our transportation challenges - securing a dedicated local funding source.

We started with a plan.

In Florida, the state allows charter counties to levy up to a 1% sales-tax to fund transportation and transit infrastructure if approved by the majority of county voters. The All for Transportation plan utilizes this 1% sales-tax increase to fund a comprehensive list of community transportation priorities including expanded bus service, new dedicated right-of-way transit options, and road projects focused on congestion relief, safety, long overdue maintenance. Our plan took the form of an amendment to the Hillsborough County charter and provided a 30-year dedicated funding source.

As a citizen-led initiative, we were tasked with collecting more than 51,000 signatures from county voters to secure our place on the general election ballot. In 6 weeks, we collected 77,000 signatures - a sign of the frustration felt by our neighbors.

We organized a coalition of grassroots activists, neighborhood leaders, and the business community; all fighting together against a common opponent - the status quo. Our message was universal: it was time to fund transportation and every neighborhood across Hillsborough County would benefit. We believed that if we could reach the voters with our message, we would win on Election Day. To do that, we raised nearly $4 million and communicated on every platform available including television, radio, digital, social media, and by knocking on more than 55,000 doors. We complimented our paid communications with an exhaustive earned media strategy. We visited every community group, chamber of commerce, and neighborhood association who would host us. We held press conferences on deadly intersections. We stood in front of polling places. There was not a means to reach voters we did not utilize.

We were strengthened by every person and partner who provided guidance, funding, and time. Partners like Accelerator for America who proactively reached out to our team and offered their experiences, helped us build relationships, and made themselves available as a resource every step of the way. The Accelerator funded a study on the economic impact of an increased sales tax, connected us to donors, and to teams across the country who had ran transportation referenda before us.

On November 6th, 282,753 voters or 57% of the electorate cast a vote in support of the All for Transportation plan. Hillsborough County came together in a bipartisan, common sense way to fund transportation solutions.

Today, Hillsborough County finds itself at outset of a new chapter.

Hillsborough County is home to 1.35 million people. In the next 30 years, we will welcome 700,000 new neighbors. The success of All for Transportation is a testament to the shifts taking place in our community and the demand from voters that Tampa and Hillsborough County’s growth over the next 30 years must look different than it has in our past.

Now, we will invest in our critical transportation infrastructure, and we have the potential to set ourselves apart as a model for other metros. The All for Transportation plan has chartered our community’s priorities — roads, safety and transit — and established a dedicated funding source for each. Our transit agency moved from the 95th best funded transit system to the 40th overnight. We are now one of only 4 metros with a dedicated funding stream for safe streets - the largest dedicated funding source for bike and pedestrian safety in the southeast. Our local investment will draw down a possible $4 billion in matching state and federal grant dollars.

However, what the passage of All for Transportation has not altered is the needs of our neighborhoods. Too many of our county’s roads are dangerous and deadly, and rush hour traffic has become a 24/7 phenomenon in too many places. Hillsborough County’s lack of public transportation options disproportionately harms our low-income neighbors, stifling not just their personal economic opportunities, but the economic potential of the entire county. When a worker can get a better job, but cannot get to that better job, we all lose out. Mobility, like education, is a great equalizer of opportunity, and an accelerant of economic growth that is both broad and equitable.

The success of All for Transportation is a reminder that government belongs to each of us, and that positive change will only follow organized demand. Our work on transportation in Tampa and Hillsborough County really began the day the referendum passed. Like many communities, we have excused our failing transportation system for decades by pointing to a lack of resources. The success of All for Transportation eliminates that excuse. We have 30 years’ worth of unfunded plans. Now is the time for action.