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Widening Fletcher Avenue would ease traffic, aid safety

Many USF students take Fletcher Avenue to get to class every day. Traffic often lines the four-lane road and while engineers believe widening the road is sorely needed, there is difficulty getting federal or state money to fund the project.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Fletcher Avenue is one of Tampa’s busiest roads with about 40,000 vehicles traveling down it each day and Hillsborough County had 17,480 accidents in 2010, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Engineers have suggested adding high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, which would allow carpools and buses to have their own lane and expand Fletcher from four lanes to six.

This would not only speed up Florida’s public transportation system, but also possibly prevent accidents that may be caused by HART or Bull Runner buses stopping in busy traffic lanes. However, this poses a unique challenge for the project’s funding that must be overcome.

Adding HOV lanes would disqualify the project from receiving federal funding. According to the Times, federal funds for HOV lanes cannot be allocated to local projects like Fletcher Avenue. However, the Transportation Task Force has already spent $2 million and about five years studying the costs of widening Fletcher. The amount of time and money invested into the project is a clear sign that the state recognizes the area as an issue.

Local roads that connect major interstates, such as Interstates 75 and 275, contribute to backup and congestion during rush hour and other peak traffic times. Allowing local roads to have HOV lanes, especially if they connect to interstates, could reduce traffic accidents and speed up commutes.

According to data gathered from the U.S. Census, the Tampa-St. Petersburg area ranks 167 out of 942 cities in public transportation, and less than 1.38 percent of Floridians use public transportation like buses and trains to get to work. Adding HOV lanes and improving the public transportation system could raise Tampa’s public transit score and encourage citizens to use public transportation.

Legislators should also consider the placement of hospitals around Fletcher Avenue. Adding lanes could ensure emergency vehicles access to Florida Hospital, the Pepin Heart Institute, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa Shriners Hospital and the many care facilities in USF Health quickly and safely. The area is also home to many retirement homes and student-housing complexes – creating a surplus of pedestrian traffic and potential for accidents.

Though the project is costly – an estimated $75 million to $110 million – the county could utilize the Community Investment Tax, which pays for roadwork, to carry out the expansion, according to the Times. However, the economy has affected these funds.

In 2006, the fund held $107 million, but dropped to $88 million in 2010. The fund is driven through sales tax, but legislators should look into alternative ways to raise money. If the project does increase public transportation, as anticipated, revenue generated from the improved system could be allocated to paying off related debts.

Though the project poses a number of financial and legal challenges, widening Fletcher could greatly impact commuters’ safety, as well assolve public transportation issues.