TBARTA OKs regional plan
May 23, 2009
Tampa Bay is one of the few U.S. metropolitan areas without trains in its transit system, but it's no longer without a master plan to create a network of train, bus and highway projects.
In a landmark day for mass transportation advocates, the seven-county Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority on Friday unanimously approved a regional mass transit master plan to be implemented in two phases - by 2035 and 2050.
"You have achieved what most thought was impossible," said Joe Smith, representing the Tampa Bay Partnership regional economic development group, which has said improved transportation is a top priority for recruiting and retaining business.
"I think we are going to get something done this time," authority member and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said of the effort that, until the past 18 months, drew little public support despite widespread highway congestion, increasing fuel prices and other regions perceived to have a better quality of life with modern transit.
Opposition to a general plan incorporating rail appears to be changing. A series of interactive workshops after the plan was formally released in April drew more than 46,000 participants. Sixteen percent of open-ended inquiries mentioned support for the project compared with 4 percent whose main point was opposition, TBARTA officials said.
The authority is scheduled to present the master plan to state officials, including Gov Charlie Crist, on May 28 in Tampa.
The TBARTA board will begin to discuss priorities and funding options in June.
The master plan will enable officials to seek funding from state and national sources. Individual local counties are expected to develop funding sources, such as a 1 cent sales tax referendum that Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio is pushing for Hillsborough County voters in 2010.
Details of the plan, such as locations of stations and selection of modes with light rail, commuter rail and monorail among possibilities, have yet to be determined.
Pinellas County transportation officials Friday won TBARTA approval to advance a key segment of their plan - a light rail link with Hillsborough County via Linebaugh Road to Oldsmar and beyond - from 2050 to 2035.
Nor does anyone know how much the plan will cost. Authority members said costs will vary depending upon what each county proposes and helps fund in the network that in the end is planned to be seamless.
Original estimates range up to $25.6 billion to build the mid-term vision by 2035, with annual operating costs of $590 million. The full network by 2050 could cost as much $36.3 billion with $961 million operating costs.
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