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Lane Ranger

Is it a road trust fund or just a government shell game?

By JAY CRIDLIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 14, 2003

The band Everclear has a song called Trust Fund, the lyrics to which go, Don't you worry if it all runs out -- don't worry, because it never will.

It would be nice if we could all feel this way about the state's transportation trust fund.

In his most recent state budget proposal, Gov. Jeb Bush has suggested that the state divert $1-billion from the fund over the next five years to help fund the constitutional class size amendment and other programs. This is on top of the hundreds of millions from the fund already allocated to other projects.

Normally, this is money that would go toward road building, airport upgrades and other public transportation programs. Since money has been taken out of this fund for non-transportation purposes before, the governor thought it a logical place to look for additional general-use funds.

But some are crying foul. The state Chamber of Commerce, for example, is arguing that if you don't spend money on roads, you'll frustrate tourists as much as truckers.

What does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Well, individual counties may have a beef with the state, too.

Hillsborough County has its own transportation trust fund, budgeted this year at $138-million. The county receives money from fuel taxes and transportation impact fees, which it then sends to the state, which in turn sends a portion back to the county based on a formula incorporating land area, population and fuel sales.

Among the organizations and entities receiving millions from the county transportation trust fund are the Public Works Department, the Planning and Growth Management Department and HARTline.

At this point, it doesn't look like the governor's proposed diversions will affect any current construction projects in Hillsborough County.

But depending on how that money is diverted, the county trust fund could be affected. If, for example, the state took some of the county's share of the local gas tax to spend on other transportation projects, the county's trust fund budget would shrink.

"Anything that he changes in terms of how the money will be allocated will affect the bottom line on what we receive," said Alice Hernandez, manager of the county's operating budget.

There's no indication that the state may change its allocation process, but it could.

If times get really tough for the state's transportation funding, county spokesman Steve Valdez said the state could ask the county to pay more on collaborative projects, such as an intersection of a state road and a county road.

"Sure, the state's going to come asking for things in the future, if they don't have money to do things in Hillsborough County," he said. "If we need it done to help us out, we need to help them help us."

* * *

TONIGHT, ON THE TWILIGHT ZONE: The accident that never happened. Or did it?

At this point, all we know is that the setting for this arguably nonexistent wreck was State Road 674 in Sun City Center.

One car, according to the crash report, was stopping for a traffic signal at the intersection of 674 and Valley Forge Road. A car following was unable to slow in time, clipping the first car's rear bumper as it swerved into a right-hand turn lane.

Here's where it gets weird. I'll let the crash report do the talking:

"After crash Driver #1 removed tag from vehicle and apparently entered Vehicle #2 and both left the scene."

To clarify, Driver #1 is the driver of the car that rear-ended Vehicle #2. If I'm reading this correctly, this means that driver then got out of his or her car and into the car he or she just hit. And the two drove off together, happy as clams.

Or did they? According to the report: "There were no witnesses. (No one contacted law enforcement. Nor did either driver/owner contact law enforcement.)"

So . . . how do we even know this happened? Perplexed, the officer checked the registration in the abandoned vehicle.

"Attempts to contact owner at address on registration were futile," the report says. "No one at the residence or manager of trailer park had any recollection of driver or vehicle."

One car is left at the intersection with $2,000 in damage. No one has a clue as to the whereabouts, or the identity, of either driver.

I'd like to give them an Axie, but I'm not sure where to send it. Maybe I'll just leave it at the intersection of 674 and Valley Forge Road.

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