Hillsborough County Commission candidates talk up light rail by Mitch E. Perry

08/11/06

Last week the Hillsborough County Commission gave tentative approval for a massive new transportation project that could alleviate traffic problems in the future, but for critics, it was the wrong project.

The Beltway project , would create 70 miles of new toll road, starting at U.S. 19 in Pinellas County, then go east through Pasco County, south thru Hillsborough, and then west in Manatee.

The first of many votes for the project – which would if approved, would open by 2015, went 6-1 in favor at the Hillsborough County Commission earlier this month.

Only Kathy Castor voted against it (roll tape#1 o.q.� a real transit system�)

A real transit system might be something like what the Orlando area will soon be getting – a $474 Commuter rail system that will Orange, Volusia, Seminole and Osecola counties.

Then there is always Light Rail, derided by some critics, but something that the very establishment Tampa Bay Partnership – hopes could be part of what they call a multi-modal approach to transportation in the future.

But with Kathy Castor leaving the Commission later this year, there doesn’t appear to be too many mass transit supporters.

But several aspiring candidates for the Commission DO support such a system, like Democrat Joe Redner, running against Commision Chairman Jim Norman (roll tape#2 o.q.�and Carrollwood�)

Recently local Republican heavyweight Al Austin – working hard in trying to bring the 2008 GOP Convention to Tampa – told the Tampa Tribune last month that as recently as a year ago, “I would not have said this, but I have come to realize we need rail and other modes of transportation�…..That endorsement was encouraging for rail supporters, says Mary Mulhern , running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in District 1, the seat Kathy Castor currently holds (roll tape#3 o.q.� we have no public transportation�)

Hillsborough County already does have some form of mass transportation – HARTLINE, the County bus system. The much maligned system has at times been nothing more than a punching bag for some Commissioners, like Brian Blair and Ronda Storms, but Mary Mulhern speaks up for the system. She recently received attention when she took a Hartline Bus from her South Tampa home to downtown Tampa, to officially file as a candidate. (roll tape#4 o.q.�and light rail�)

Since news of the Beltway project broke 2 weeks ago, the plan has been ridiculed in the pages of the Tampa Tribune and the Weekly Planet, while the St. Petersburg Times reported that some key officials would benefit economically if the road is built.

District 4 candidate Joe Redner thinks the Beltway idea just smells bad. He went before the County Commission during the public comment portion of the last meeting to present his alternative light rail concept (roll tape#5 o.q.�lands out there�)

WMNF attempted to speak to other County Commission candidates , such as Kevin White and Chloe Coney. They did not return our phone calls by airtime.

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