Iorio touts benefits of light rail option
Light rail is the only choice for major local transportation corridor improvements, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said Thursday, while acknowledging federal requirements to study alternatives.
"I'm not afraid to say it â?? bus rapid transit is not acceptable," Iorio said in an interview with the Tampa Tribune editorial board. "You tell us why Charlotte, N.C., Phoenix, Salt Lake City should have light rail and not Tampa."
Iorio said Hillsborough County Area Regional Transit Authority officials â?? who can provide information but cannot advocate passage of a Nov. 2 referendum to raise funds for transit and roads â?? have done a fine job with operational planning, but are not well equipped to address the political realm.
The local movement to support a 1-cent on the dollar sales tax increase ran afoul of HART's announcement Monday that further refinement of light rail ridership and cost data would delay HART's board from committing to precisely where the trains would run.
That means voters will not learn specific paths of light rail within two corridors â?? downtown to airport and downtown to New Tampa â?? before the referendum.
David Singer, a Holland & Knight attorney who is leading the Moving Hillsborough Forward transit advocacy group, said the important transit issues go well beyond moving people from point A to point B.
"It's about economic development along the routes," Singer said. "It's not going to matter whether it's six blocks this way or six blocks that way."
HART chief executive David Armijo said in a Thursday e-mail that sufficient information will be presented at public hearings in late September to make clear the benefits of light rail vs. bus rapid transit, which can use designated lanes and traffic light changing equipment for speedier trips. Cost information would be available by a Sept. 27 HART board meeting, he said.
"Several national studies report higher land use redevelopment with light rail compared to bus rapid transit," Armijo said.
Iorio said she is concerned about promising more than can be delivered in the short term, primarily on the northeast corridor where two of the three alternatives involve making deals with CSX for right-of-way.
The mayor cheerfully acknowledged negotiating with CSX is like "negotiating with a nation state," referring to the tough stances the freight railroad has taken from throughout its network when arranging deals with passenger lines.
But using CSX rights of way on portions of the northeast corridor rather than along Interstate 275 opens vastly more economic development opportunities for East Tampa neighborhoods, Iorio said.