Orlando Area gets Mass Rail system while Hillsborough talks about a beltway by Mitch E. Perry

08/07/06

As the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners decided last week to give preliminary approval for a massive new beltway to alleviate traffic concerns in the future, a news conference was taking place on the opposite side of I-4, where Governor Jeb Bush announced a deal that will bring commuter rail to the Orlando region.(roll tape#1 o.q.�in public life�)

The Florida Department of Transportation will oversee the design, construction and operation of the rail system will come from state funds. The State will pay a quarter of the estimated $474 million project – the local counties that will participate – Orange, Volusia, Seminole and Osecola counties – will pay another quarter, and the Federal Government will pick up the rest.

Linda Chapin is the director of the Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies at the University of Central Florida. She was Mayor of Orange County in the 1990’s and led the push – along with former Orlando Mayor Hood & Congressman John Mica to bring light rail to the region. That push, more expensive at over $600 million dollars, ended in 1999 when it lost out in the Orange County Commission by one vote.

But she says Congressman Mica’s back up idea was to use existing CSX railroad tracks and convert them for commuter rail – which is what fell into place last week (roll tape#2 o.q.�how that goes�)

Chapin says that the Orlando area business community was largely missing in action in discussing public transit back in the 1990’s, but that they’re fully in support of the commuter rail approach (roll tape#3 o.q.� with highways alone�)

The business community in the Tampa Bay Area has been making noises this year of trying to begin the planning of a regional mass transit initiative.

The Tampa Bay Partnership has decided to focus on trying to pass legislation next year for creating a regional transit authority that – starting north in Hernando, East to Polk – and South to Sarasota – that would look at ALL types of options – including light and commuter rail – to address the growing transportation needs of the area.

Stuart Rogel is the President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. (roll tape#4 o.q.�in the Tampa Bay region�)

County Commissioner Kathy Castor was the only Board member who voted against the beltway proposal last week. She disagrees with her Commission Collague Mark Sharpe, who spoke out against a light rail system by saying the area lacks the density needed for such a system (roll tape#5 o.q.�THIS IS the way to go�)

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Castor does support light rail,but she’s a lone voice in the wilderness on this current County Commission. But Stuart Rogel from the Tampa Bay Partnership doesn’t criticize the County Commission for their reluctance to look at anything but adding or widening roads to alleviate traffic now and in the future. He says there needs to be one Authority whose mission is to do that, which is why the Partnership is strongly behind creating a Regional Authority.

Rogel said that his group is enthusiastic about the beltway – but as a way of perhaps of incorporating transit alternatives in their plans (roll tape6 o.q.�oriented activity�)

Last week was the first time that the County Commission as a whole had been informed about the Beltway. There will be many more public meetings and hearings before the project is actually given the go ahead to proceed.

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