Voters in Broward County will decide in November whether to increase sales tax from six percent to seven. That extra penny per dollar would be locked in for three decades - all in the name of funding transportation projects and upgrades.
WLRN asked Broward County's Transportation Director, Christopher Walton, to talk about the specific projects the tax increase would fund.
Out of more than 700 projects already identified, Walton said more buses and bus routes top that list - as well as street upgrades and synchronizing traffic lights.
WLRN: One of the most frustrating parts about driving around in Broward County is the traffic lights. The timing is off. If the penny sales tax increase gets passed, one of the main projects is getting lights synchronized. What goes into this?
Walton: It’s kind of extensive process. The county, along with our partners at the state, are in the process of implementing something called adaptive signal controls.
In order to do that, we need to lay fiber optics throughout the county. Right now our signals are controlled by time, by period of day - what the fiber optic cable allows us to do, it monitors traffic in all directions in real time.
That process has already begun. This penny surtax would allow us to expedite that process.
Talk to me about the county's plan for buses. The tax would fund hundreds of more buses and at express bus routes. But what are the plan's specifics?
Right now, our bus fleet [has] 359 [buses]. When I compare that to other communities of like size [and] like population - Long Beach, California, San Antonio, Texas - we are about 150 buses smaller. The 30-year plan calls for us to take our bus fleet from 359 up to 642.
We're going to implement on eight corridors what we call ‘rapid service.’ And 'rapid service' is all day service, where the buses you know will be coming every 10 to 15 minutes.
What we're also finding is that the average speed traveled in this county is slowing down - because people are going to continue to move to Broward County, and they're going to continue to bring their cars. Initially, when I moved here it took me about 12 minutes to get from my home to the office. That same drive now is about 18 minutes.
Would any focus on the buses work on feeding the Tri-rail?
Yes. We want to add 10 new routes to the system, and we're also going to fill in a lot of the gaps by realigning some of the existing routes because we have areas that are underserved. Underserved meaning that the intervals between buses is just too long - in the southwestern section of the county, in the northeastern corner of the county, and quite frankly up in the northwestern corner of the county.
I think we do very well in central county, North and South. But as the density spreads out, we have to put up our services where the people are.
If the tax gets passed it's expected to generate roughly $357 million in its first year. What projects get funded first?
We'll see improved bus service almost right away - and many of the street improvements such as lighting, sidewalks, and intersection improvements. We’ll start working closely with the Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, in terms of potentially identifying corridors that are some of the really highly- traveled corridors, for potential rail studies. So it's been an exhaustive process but it's been a very collaborative process.
Some county and city officials do have criticisms about the sales tax increase, like their worry that the county lacks a specific enough plan for this money and that city projects won't receive enough of the generated money. Right now they're set to get 10 percent. How have you been addressing these criticisms?
Right now we've got 709 projects. We fully expect that we're going to spend more than 10 percent. We have to also keep in mind that all of the other projects that the county is doing from a road perspective, and all of the transit improvements, are actually in cities. I mean, the county is made up of 31 cities.