HART keeps its options open
October 19, 2010
The HART board Monday unanimously selected light rail for two key Tampa transit corridors, but it left bus rapid transit open to become the ultimate choice. That could occur if studies do not continue to show that greater economic development along rail lines would compensate for higher rail costs between downtown and Tampa International Airport and downtown and the northeast suburbs.
In addition, a prominent community leader sought assurances that HART will seriously consider sending tracks through East Tampa, despite the higher costs than an Interstate 275 route, because of better redevelopment potential.
"Our community is ready to support light rail, but I have become concerned when all I heard today was about the I-275 route," said Dianne Hart, the chief executive of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association and a Democratic Party leader who said she was about to distribute 50,000 cards backing a vote for the tax increase.
It's unclear how those issues might affect voter perceptions in a Nov. 2 referendum to increase the county sales tax by
1 cent on the dollar to help fund transit and road improvements.
Specific routes won't be recommended until November or December, after the referendum.
Leaving the choice of transit mode open for reconsideration could find support among those wary of making a binding decision before all studies are complete. Voters in Charlotte, N.C., Dallas, Denver and Phoenix approved new transit taxes before stations were confirmed.
It also could create concern among those who favor rail over bus rapid transit, which uses automation and restricted lanes to speed service.
Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Kevin Beckner, who believes light rail is the better option, said the referendum should not be affected by allowing reconsideration of rail if additional studies don't continue to support that choice.
"We must make it right," said Beckner, who added that the vote should be based on long-term transportation goals for the county.
"This will have no impact on the vote," said David Singer, a Holland & Knight attorney retained to head the pro-rail, pro-referendum group Moving Hillsborough Forward.
"The HART board indicated this with their unanimous vote this morning," he said.
The HART board voted 9-0 in favor of light rail, with County Commissioner and board member Mark Sharpe absent. Board members Rose Ferlita, also county commissioner, and Steve Polzin, a University of South Florida professor, attended the meeting but were not present when the vote was conducted.
Karen Jaroch, a leader in the No Tax For Tracks movement, pointed to a HART study that showed bus rapid transit annual operational costs of up to $22.75 million compared with $29 million light rail.
Bus rapid transit capital costs for both Tampa corridors would be $1.39 billion, compared with $2.8 billion for light rail, with track and overhead electric power lines adding to train costs.
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