Transportation is transitioning
April 25, 2009
Officials unveiled a solution Friday to the costs and congestion of being trainless in the Bay area but emphasized that realizing the full system depends on independent local support from each of seven counties.
How much of the concept evolves depends on voter approval for funding to help build and operate a mass transit system, officials of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority said. Officials from each county will have to fine-tune routes and select among various rail and bus modes to propose to constituents.
"Each county will put together what they can afford," Sarasota County commissioner and TBARTA member Nora Patterson said. "We cannot eat this elephant all at once."
For example, in Hillsborough County, voters could choose to enact a 1-cent sales tax increase in 2010 to support the first stages of rail-bus-road improvements that could be ready in six to eight years once funding and red tape are resolved, said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, also a TBARTA board member.
"Hillsborough's costs will be a fraction of the $13.7 billion to $25.8 billion for the regional system planned by 2035," she said.
Half of the local construction costs could be covered by matching money from other government sources, said the mayor, who has championed adding light rail to the transit mix in the Bay area, which is one of the few major U.S. metro areas without rail alternatives.
Iorio said Hillsborough's light rail portion of the plan would cost about $70 million a mile for the first 30 miles.
It is envisioned to be built in four segments: first, between the University of South Florida and downtown; second, downtown and the West Shore Business District; third, West Shore through Tampa International Airport to Linebaugh Avenue, where an east-west line eventually would provide one of two rail links with Pinellas County; and fourth, USF to Pasco County.
"If Pasco County were to approve a line from Wesley Chapel to Hillsborough, maybe we would do the USF-Pasco line second to get commuters into downtown Tampa," Iorio said.
Pinellas County likely would follow Hillsborough closely in the timing of its network, and after a final determination of routes and voter approval, construction could begin by 2015, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel said.
If built as proposed, by 2035, the regional system could include 103 miles of light rail - or possibly other rail modes that might be options - and 439 miles of bus and managed highway lanes. By 2050, it would include 250 miles of short- and long-distance rail and 479 miles of bus lines.
The near-term rail network would be in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, with the Pasco County link from Wesley Chapel. The longer-range plans would add long-distance rail between Tampa and Brooksville and Lakeland and Bradenton, similar to Toronto's successful long-distance commuter lines on lightly used freight rail lines.
The Bay area's network would provide an ideal connection with the Tampa-Orlando-Miami high-speed rail line that is part of President Barack Obama's concept, unveiled this month.
Someone could fly to Tampa International Airport, take light rail to the West Shore Business District or downtown, and also connect with high-speed rail for a trip to Orlando.
TBARTA members tempered their enthusiasm with the realities of costs and the need for attitude adjustments among residents accustomed to using their cars.
"Realistically, 10 percent or less of the trips would use the network," said Bob Clifford, TBARTA executive director.
But he said the entire community should learn it would benefit from relieving congestion on highways, reducing harmful environmental effects of vehicle emissions and trimming the use of fossil fuels.
Improving mass transit has been a priority for local economic development officials who must compete with cities whose transportation networks are more efficient than what the Bay area offers.
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