COMMENTARY

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep

By BOB MARTINEZ

Published: Mar 11, 2007

Several weeks ago on these pages, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik described a way to build a regional light-rail system by using existing CSXT railroad lines. To fund the project, he suggested that local governments eliminate the property tax for transit and replace it with a half-cent sales tax.

We asked community leaders their reaction to his proposal. Here are their responses:

With the long-term financing and construction cycles, if you don't start moving toward rail, you'll never get there. I personally think we should begin moving in that direction. But you have to be thorough in your preparation work and have to be honest in approaching taxpayers, so they aren't promised more than what rail can do.

It won't eliminate congestion. There's not a city in the world where it has. But it provides citizens options and it takes cars off the street where otherwise you couldn't move.

An exhaustive survey would need to be done on ridership. If you ask how many people favor a rail system, support would probably be overwhelming but you need to know how many people would really get out of their cars and use a system. You need to know the real times it would take to get people from portal to portal. They need to know how long it would take to get from their house to work.

When you talk about a rail at grade level, you need to look at safety, how much will it increase traffic backups and how many stops it will make on the way to the destination. And the system can't be rail only; it has to be multi-modal, with connectors getting people from their stops to where they need to go.

Land use and zoning is critical when doing the study. Unlike some cities that have a centralized business center, we have downtown, West Shore, Hidden River, and hubs all over the place. That's going to be a real challenge.

You don't get any second shots with this, so you've go to make sure this is done right. You need to be able to say, here's what we can do, here's what the people want, and here's what it will cost.

And you should do this not because some other city is doing it or not because you think it will make us a big-time city, but because it begins to solve a problem.

Bob Martinez is the former governor of Florida and mayor of Tampa.



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