TBARTA Polishes Plan Amid Flood Of Input
March 21, 2009
The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority is trying to put the finishing touches on a long-term transportation plan, complete with rail systems and express buses between and within counties.
But transportation planners in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and elsewhere in the Bay area are raising difficult technical questions that could take months to answer and have an impact on what that long-term plan looks like.
The authority still hopes to present the plan to the public next month and get its governing board's OK by July 1, the deadline imposed by the Legislature when it created TBARTA two years ago to develop the seven-county plan.
Some of the planners' questions are easy to tackle. Others, along with some suggested changes, will need months of study by the authority's consultant, Jacobs Engineering Group.
In the end, what the public sees on paper next month likely will change by the time the first projects get under way. Here's a sampling of the suggestions:
•Planners from the Metropolitan Planning Organization in Pinellas asked for a light rail line from the county's Gateway area to Pasco County along U.S. 19.
The plan currently calls for managed lanes with express buses running along McMullen Booth Road and the Bayside Bridge. Eventually, light rail would run from St. Petersburg to Gateway and Clearwater, and then into Hillsborough, but not along U.S. 19.
•Planners from Hillsborough's MPO are requesting a light rail line along Busch Boulevard from Linebaugh Avenue, just north of Tampa International Airport, to the University of South Florida.
This would complement other rail lines already on the map - from USF to downtown to the airport - and complete a loop.
TBARTA already has the Busch line on a map - its 2050 long-term vision map - but Hillsborough wants it on the map for projects set to be completed by 2035.
•In Pasco, planners asked TBARTA to think about extending the express bus line that would run west from Zephyrhills on State Road 54.
Currently, the plan has the buses turning around a few miles east of U.S. 19. Pasco wants the line extended to U.S. 19 to serve residents near New Port Richey.
"We're not saying they made a mistake. We just want them to take a look at it," said Doug Uden, transportation planning coordinator for Pasco's MPO.
Some of the planners' suggestions were offered last year. Others, such the bus extension idea in Pasco, arose only a couple months ago.
Most of them relate to moving items from one plan to another but all require study because of the possible ripple effect on other systems and on costs.
TBARTA actually is working on three interrelated plans. In addition to the 2050 long-term vision and 2035 plans, it's developing a "supporting network" plan that shows proposed bus routes.
Some of the planners' suggestions are tricky, such as whether a rail line can be added along U.S. 19 in Pinellas.
Brian Smith, executive director of the Pinellas MPO, said officials proposed the rail line on local maps years ago. From a land-use perspective, it made sense to place the line on the busy commercial corridor instead of McMullen Booth Road, he said.
"It's not a new idea for us," Smith said. "We've always had it on U.S. 19. What they were looking at was a way to get into Pasco. What we were looking at, or asking, was what purpose does it serve?"
Cassandra Ecker, transportation planning group manager at Jacobs, said TBARTA is considering several factors, including cost and land use, in deciding where the transportation corridors will end up.
Jacobs is considering Pinellas' suggestion but hasn't decided whether to go along with it, stick with McMullen Booth or propose a nearby route.
For now, the maps show general corridors. After the plans are adopted, TBARTA will narrow those to specific roads and rights of way. Ecker estimated that could take 12 to 18 months.
"Funding will be an absolutely critical role in prioritizing," said Bob Clifford, TBARTA's executive director. "The other key criteria, I believe, in prioritization is going to be land use. Because part of this discussion is, how do you grow? And if you want transit systems to work you have to have the right land use."
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