HART may put its rail line study on the fast track
May 22, 2009
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit staff members have talked for months about focusing on the corridor between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa.
Now HART is considering an additional study to examine the potential of creating a downtown-to-West Shore area rail line at the same time.
"There's a tremendous amount of traffic that goes in that direction," HART Chairman Ron Govin said.
That line has been included in HART's long-range transportation plans since the Tampa Rail Study of 2002.
But staff members have long said that at least in initial phases, the agency should focus on USF-to-downtown to tackle the burgeoning New Tampa and university areas.
Whether the agency studies the downtown-to-West Shore corridor now or holds off is expected to be decided June 1, when HART's board of directors convenes. After that, the board's next meeting won't be until August because of a summer recess scheduled in July.
The transit agency is aiming to select a consultant in a month or two to study the downtown-to-USF project.
If HART's board orders a study of the downtown-to-West Shore corridor, it's possible the same consultant will examine the viability of both projects at the same time.
Called an alternative analysis, the study is necessary before the Federal Transit Administration can consent to funding a rail project.
HART also wants to raise additional dollars for rail by asking voters in November 2010 to support a 1-cent sales tax increase.
Board member Steve Polzin said there's a practical side to studying both corridors at once, namely that if there's a problem in one corridor, the agency can focus on the other corridor until the issue is resolved.
"If we find some aspect that is a big obstacle to moving ahead, then we have another corridor in our back pocket," he said.
The problem is finding additional funds to study both projects at the same time.
Ed Crawford, a HART spokesman, said the agency has about $2 million set aside to study the downtown-to-USF corridor but has not figured out how to pay for a downtown-to-West Shore study, which will potentially cost millions more.
"It's complicated, it's expensive and it's difficult to understand," he said. "A lot of people say, 'Why can't they just include another corridor?' The reality is it's expensive, and somebody will have to pay for it."
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