Letters To The Editor
August 9, 2009
Timely And Appropriate
Regarding "Iorio: It's Train Time For Tampa" (front page, July 31):
Once again the lady has spoken with enlightened insight. The lady is none other than Mayor Pam Iorio of Tampa when she said that it's train time for Tampa.
We all know, and the mayor has said, that metropolitan Tampa is already more than two decades behind time with a mass transit system development plan for the area. To await the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority's meaningful conclusion to bring mass transit to the entire seven-county region may extend it closer to about three decades.
On the other hand, if one were to seriously look into the available corridor options to bring the external regional transit system into metropolitan Tampa, they are somewhat limited. One could almost count them with the fingers in one hand. Examples include the north-south corridors of U.S. 41, the northwestern combinational corridor of Interstate 4 and U.S. 92, the eastern corridor of S.R. 50, and on the west the corridor of S.R. 580, void of the need to hang another deck across other existing trans-bay crossings.
Metropolitan area transit systems are known to have different operational characteristics than regional transit systems, such as frequencies of operation and capacities, suggesting that from an operational standpoint, it may be more prudent to have the regional systems interface at appropriate end-stations of the metropolitan systems. Such would likely be the case for the Tampa metropolitan transit system.
Include More Cities
I agree with Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard that we need the support of multiple counties to make any regional plan for mass transportation work. I think that we gave up on the inclusion of Polk County in these plans much too easily.
My personal feeling is that a new passenger railroad line should be constructed all the way from Orlando to St. Petersburg with Amtrak footing the bill for upgrading the design to carry passenger trains over commuter trains.
As far as the communities north and south of us are concerned - Brooksville, Bradenton and Sarasota - they would be best served by high-speed bus service.
Bring In Other Mayors
Only a month or two after piling on and killing the state's regional solution, the CSX proposal for a rail plan in Orlando, Tampa's mayor is proposing a local plan that critics call jumping the gun.
Not unlike the now-dead CSX plan, her vision for passenger rail requires vast public spending and will presumably utilize existing rights-of-way and rail infrastructure. The risk to area voters and potential rail users of accepting Iorio's accelerated timetable for the plan centers around the critical nature of integrating the rail systems in coastal and Central Florida communities as diverse as Bartow, Clearwater, Lakeland and Winter Haven.
The crucial balancing act goes beyond simple operational efficiencies, due to the regional nature of the transportation system's funding. Without significant inputs of state and federal money, it's impossible to imagine a viable rail system, because one that costs riders substantially more than the bus service already available in the affected communities is a nonstarter.
At minimum, the mayor needs to better articulate her reasons for trying to get ahead of her fellow mayors and colleagues. Their support and cooperation is absolutely critical if there is to be a regional passenger rail system in this part of Florida.
Let The Voters Decide
I agree with the mayor. Let's quit talking and do something, which is let the voters decide to build rail and whether to raise sales taxes. But as for letting Hillsborough Area Regional Transit manage the program - forget it. After encouraging the new director of HART to add our new commuter and mass transit friendly 40th Street to the HART strategic plan, he was puzzled. He said his planners knew what they were doing. In actuality he did not even know where 40th Street was.
Well 40th Street is the only major road that runs uninterrupted from the Selmon Crosstown Expressway to the University of South Florida. There are dedicated bus pull-offs. Taxpayers have spent $100 million for this project. It has been the mayor's top transportation project for the past five years. This new and beautiful parkway already has high-tech economic development along it, and the HART director does not even know where it is.
In my opinion HART needs to go away. They don't know how to run a bus system.
I'm for rail, but get rid of HART.
Plan Is Long Overdue
I definitely agree with Mayor Iorio that the city of Tampa and its citizens are ready for a referendum on better transit. The two years it will take to put a referendum on the ballot will give HART's board time to make plans for a better bus system to feed the proposed light rail.
With gasoline at $4 or more per gallon, more and more commuters will opt for a mass-transit alternative - if one is in place. It is easier to start with improved bus service. Even those who would never think of riding a bus will benefit from fewer cars on the road, cleaner air, and reduced demand for oil. HART, which has historically been supported largely by ad valorem taxes, is now in a position of slower growth. In two years, as fuel continues to increase in cost, more people will choose to vote yes for the half-penny increase.
I only wish we could have gotten ready sooner to have the referendum this year. As it is, we are 20 years behind other comparable cities.