St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg, Fla.
Author: MIKE BRASSFIELD
Date: Mar 24, 2007
Copyright Times Publishing Co. Mar 24, 2007

In the decades to come, as it becomes harder to further widen Tampa Bay's major roads, state officials expect to spend significantly more money on mass transit.

In a study released Friday, the state Department of Transportation has mapped out five corridors running through seven counties in west central Florida where state planners think major transit routes should eventually go. The details remain vague and far in the future.

The department is talking in terms of a 50-year vision. State and local officials haven't decided what kind of mass transit to use - light rail, longer-distance commuter rail, better bus systems, rapid transit buses, ferries, or some combination of those. Expect to hear much debate about that in years to come.

Also, the five "transit corridors" are very wide and general, not specific routes. Planners identified the following corridors after 18 months of research on commuter patterns and expected growth:

- An east-to-west corridor from St. Petersburg through Gateway, Tampa's West Shore and downtown, and over to Lakeland

- St. Petersburg south to Bradenton and Sarasota

- Tampa north to USF, east Pasco and Brooksville

- Tampa' West Shore up to northwest Hillsborough, central Pasco and Brooksville

- St. Petersburg to north Pinellas and New Port Richey

The significance of the study is that the state - which spends more than $8-billion a year on transportation - is embracing mass transit as a key part of the bay area's future, observers say.

Still, state officials say roads remain their immediate priority.

"I think you're going to see more funding for mass transit in this area than has been spent historically," said regional secretary Don Skelton. But he added, "Road projects are not going to be going away. I wouldn't characterize it as shifting funds away from highways to transit."

Several roads around Tampa Bay are slated to be widened in the next five years and beyond, with plans for six to eight lanes on local interstates and six lanes on other major roads.

After that, though, "it will be difficult to add more roadway capacity on the existing corridors," the study says.

And traffic is getting worse. In the past 15 years, west central Florida's population has gone up 30 percent, and commuters' delay due to traffic congestion has increased by almost 110 percent, according to the department.

A state survey of Tampa Bay residents found that 66 percent expect the need for public transit to increase greatly within a decade, and 57 percent would support a tax increase for transit.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or brassfield@sptimes.com.

Credit: Times Staff Writer

The department is talking in terms of a 50-year vision. State and local Officials haven't decided what kind of mass transit to use - light rail, longer-distance commuter rail, better bus systems, rapid transit buses, ferries, or some combination of those. Expect to hear much debate about that in years to come.

"I think you're going to see more funding for mass transit in this area than has been spent historically," said regional secretary Don Skelton. But he added, "Road projects are not going to be going away. I wouldn't characterize it as shifting funds away from highways to transit."

A state survey of Tampa Bay residents found that 66 percent expect the need for public transit to increase greatly within a decade, and 57 percent would support a tax increase for transit.

Back to St Pete Times Page. . .

Back to Home Page. . .