Bay area group makes pitch for mass transit

By MIKE BRASSFIELD, Times Staff Writer
Published August 22, 2007


TAMPA - Building a better mass transit system for the Tampa Bay area would be expensive, and convincing the taxpaying public that it's worth doing will take a lot of work.

Bearing that in mind, the Tampa Bay Partnership held a forum Tuesday that was part information session on transportation, part pep rally.

The economic development group is pushing for improved transit, possibly including a light rail network. About 200 business, government and political bigwigs listened to its pitch.

Partnership president Stuart Rogel said Tampa Bay needs to invest more in its transportation system to stay economically competitive as its population grows. Transit lines linking homes to jobs and entertainment centers will help attract companies, he said.

The partnership was a driving force behind getting state lawmakers to create TBARTA, the new Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority that will meet for the first time Friday.

Tuesday's forum addressed how TBARTA could pay for mass transit projects, such as a combination of rail lines and express bus service. "That is the big elephant in the room - financing," Rogel said.

Investment banker Amy Lettelleir looked at how other areas finance transit projects.

For example, a 1-cent sales tax in seven local counties could raise roughly $450-million annually, which could leverage a $6-billion bond issue over 30 years, which could attract significant federal matching funds, she said.

Voters in each county would have to approve a new sales tax.

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

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