A peek at future of mass transit here

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer

Published Thursday, April 23, 2009

TAMPA — Each household in the Tampa Bay area would have to pay $125 a year for 25 years to build a rail and bus system from Citrus to Sarasota county by 2035.

That's one of the nuggets contained in the transportation master plan for the seven-county region set for unveiling today by the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority.

Other tidbits: Building and operating the first phase of the system would cost up to $25.8 billion, and reach up to $36.3 billion to complete the vision for 2050; it would eventually include 250 miles of rail, and require tripling bus service in the region to be successful.

The master plan's executive summary argues it's a worthwhile investment to relieve congestion, reduce greenhouse gases and fuel use, and promote development without cutting into rural areas or environmentally sensitive lands.

Bob Clifford, executive director of TBARTA, said the transit plan will get 1.3 million people to within a half-mile of their jobs in such employment centers as downtown Tampa, the West Shore business district, and Pinellas County's Gateway area.

The plan is ambitious, Clifford said, but he points out that the city of Denver plans to do even more in less time. "We definitely think this is feasible," he said.

If the plan is ratified by the TBARTA board, next steps would include working with local governments to develop land-use policies to support the plan and figure out what to build first.

"Tampa seems to be at the forefront of that," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who serves as vice chairman of the TBARTA board.

Hillsborough County commissioners earlier this month voted unanimously to write a referendum asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax to help pay for the system in the county. It could be on the 2010 ballot.

The referendum and other potential funding sources aren't identified in TBARTA's executive summary. But TBARTA reps say they're hoping to get up to 80 percent in federal funding.

Hibbard said it's time for Florida to cash in on money its residents have been paying to federal coffers that ends up paying for transit projects in other states.

"We've been a donor state too long," he said.

Starting next week, TBARTA will reach out to 320,000 residents with eight "iTownHall meetings" via telephone. The calls will go out to a random samples of 40,000 people at a time, allowing them to speak directly to TBARTA board members about the master plan.

A traditional public hearing is set for May 11 at 6 p.m. at the Alfano Center at 11606 N McKinley Drive in Tampa. For more information, go to www.TBARTA.com.


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