Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Call To Arms

If you're a bicyclist and want to see Hillsborough County connect the Upper Tampa Bay Trail with the Suncoast Trail -- like they said they would -- then you need to tell the Hillsborough County Commission next week that you won't stand for an 11th hour attempt by one of the county comissioners to derail this project.

Hillsborough County has spent millions of dollars on the planning of this connector trail, which would link the two popular trails into the longest continuous trail in the state of Florida. It would be a regional bicycle gem for not only Hillsborough County, but everyone who likes to bike in the Tampa Bay region. It would be a continuous paved trail of more than 50 miles from just north of Hillsborough Avenue to Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

Hillsborough County sold people on supporting the tax that paid for the Buccaneers' football stadium by saying that sales tax money collected from this "community investment tax" would go to local projects like this one.

Connecting these two trails was also identified as the number one priority bicycle infrastructure project in the Tampa Bay region. In fact, the trails planners in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties even said this connector trail in Hillsborough was the most important trail plan in the region.

After spending millions of dollars for planning and lining up the property purchases to build the 7-mile connector, a property owner along the route contacted the county to say she doesn't want to sell and County Commissioner Jim Norman decided to re-arrange the route to accommodate a developer who supposedly wants to use the property. All this after Hillsborough County lined up properties along the connector trail route for this "done deal."

By the way, the Hillsborough County commissioners stiffed this $13 million connector trail project when the comissioners doled out $40 million in community tax dollars a few months ago. The DOT would have reimbursed $7 million of the $13 million, but the commission spent all $40 million on ballfields.

Then last week at the Feb. 4 county commission meeting, Commissioner Norman tried to pull a fast one by slipping in these proposed changes to the connector trail into what is called the "consent" agenda part of the meeting -- supposedly routine items that do not draw discussion from the commission.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe caught it and requested county staff look into the matter and he pushed this item to the Feb. 18 county commission meeting.

This is where you come in. If you care about bicycling and want to see this project built, then tell that to the county commissioners.

The meeting is 9 a.m. Feb. 18, next Wednesday at the county building on Kennedy in downtown Tampa. Show up at 8:45 a.m. at the county building commission meeting room and sign a speaker card so that you can tell the county commissioners to build the connector trail like the county has said it was going to do all along and don't let Commssioner Norman derail this project.

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