YBOR BUSINESS COMMUNITY TOLD TIME FOR RAIL IS NOW by Roxanne Escobales

01/09/07

The Hillsborough County Planning Commission wants to get the word out to the business community that a light rail system is the way for Tampa to go. The Planning Commission’s assistant executive director, Ramond Chiaramonte spoke at the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce luncheon today. His message – without trains and without plans for trains, Tampa lags behind the times.

 

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Tampa has talked about rail for at least a decade now. Just four years ago a plan was formulated and sent to the federal government for approval.

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Chiaramonte says its time to revisit that old plan and update it.

 

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Regionalism is the buzzword when it comes to current transit plans. Pinellas County Commission chair Ronnie Duncan has started making noise about meeting with Pasco and Hillsborough Counties to align their transit plans. And during the next legislative session, state Representative Bill Galvano and state Senator Mike Fasano will introduce a bill to create an 8-county transit authority for Tampa Bay and surrounding areas.

 

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So how are current efforts different from past failed ones? Now there’s a bit of rivalry involved and a workable model. Last August, the Orlando area announced plans for a major commuter rail system, blessed by then Governor Jeb Bush. In Tampa Bay, a renewed sense of purpose sprung from this.

 

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Outgoing Tampa city council member Mary Alvarez, who also sits on the board of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organisation --  spontaneously took the mic and confirmed that Orlando’s commuter rail plan – which will use existing CSX freight lines – has put some fire under the bottoms of local government.

 

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Chiaramonte says some of the push for rail has come from the business community itself.

 

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But this is just the beginning. Decisions have to be made about what locations will be connected, whether trains will be electric or diesel and other such details. Chiaramonte reckons with a lot of hard work, Tampa Bay could have a rail system within five to ten years.

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