These projects could go under HART’s umbrella to receive funding from the penny transportation tax

By Veronica Brezina-Smith

TAMPA – Now that the transportation referendum for the penny-sales tax increase has passed, projects that have sat on the shelves and ones that are in need of more funding may possibly be part of the Hillsborough County bus transit agency.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will see 45 percent of the $280 million collected through the sales tax, or nearly $126 million per year.

One of the services is the Downtowner, the electric shuttle that carries about 500 passengers a day and operates through the Channel District, River Arts District, the University of Tampa area and more recently into Tampa Heights.

The private-public partnership includes the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the city and HART.

However, Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, said the partnership is speaking with HART about that service being under its wing.

“We’re talking with HART about potentially absorbing the service under their umbrella as first-mile, last-mile service for downtown,” Kress said during the Dreamit x Bisnow Innovation Summit that took place earlier this month.

“We’re ready to hand off our baby to a new parent; HART seems logical,” she told Tampa Bay Business Journal after the event. “It’s a little daunting each year to raise $1 million in the private-public sector to keep this going,” she said, adding how the service is thought of as a micro-transit service that should belong to a transit agency.

HART has not yet responded to the TBBJ for further comment.

Another project is the proposed ferry that would connect southern Hillsborough County to MacDill Airforce Base. That project been put on pause after the Hillsborough County Commission voted 6-1 on Nov. 8 to stop its public-private partnership with ferry operator HMS Global Maritime and the South Swell Development Group for providing the service.

The unexpected vote was due to concerns over the costs of docks, cost for the land, concerns for the Schultz site due to its environmental protection, and the referendum, as some members thought the project could eventually operate under HART.

“This is a transit project and if it proceeds, I feel it should be under the purview of HART particularly since the referendum passed,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said during the meeting.

The board accepted that the contract would be terminated and that they would encourage HART to take the reins on the project.

Although these projects could fall under HART’s umbrella, a 13-member oversight committee still needs to be formed that will monitor the funding from the sales tax. The committee will be made up of citizens, experts, an attorney, land use or real estate expert, and an accountant. The members must be appointed by various entities such as HART, Hillsborough County, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, cities and others.

The organization is expected to be formed at the beginning of 2019.