County Commissioners Blow Out Rail Meeting BY Roxanne Escobales

02/16/07
Alan Watts

Transportation officials from three metropolitan cities from around the states came to Tampa to speak to area leadership about how they each got highly successful light rail systems up and running. Yet Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who is a big supporter of light rail, was disappointed that members of one very important regional board did not bother to show up.

 

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The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, hosted the three transportation officials from Denver, Dallas and Portland, Oregon, to speak to lawmakers and community leaders. Four Hillsborough County Commissioners sit on the board of the MPO – neither they nor their fellow commissioners turned up. Their participation is crucial to any transit plans, as one of cornerstones of all three speakers’ messages was:

 

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That was the general manager of the Denver Regional Transportation District, Cal Marsella. And this from Portland area transit consultant G. B. Arrington, on that region’s successful bids for federal funds:

 

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Six months ago, the county commission voted 6-to-1 to give its approval for a beltway that would link four of the areas high growth counties. Critics call the toll road a sprawlway, and say it would fuel more suburban growth, and with it, traffic congestion. The reluctance of the county commission to throw support behind a light rail system was referred to by city councilwoman Linda Saul Sena at the MPO meeting when she asked the three-man panel how to combat political stagnation.

 

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Hillsborough County Commissioner and MPO board member Mark Sharpe had intended to go to the presentations but was not able to when another meeting ran over schedule. He did however attend a luncheon later in the day that featured the three-man panel making the same presentations to the business community. That was hosted by the Tampa Bay Partnership, a business development organization that actively supports finding transit solutions for the area. But Sharpe said he was the only commissioner who went to the luncheon.

 

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While Sharpe said he wished more commissioners had shown up, he says attitudes are changing.

 

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While no current Hillsborough County Commissioners attended the MPO presentations, one former county commissioner did. Transit advocate Ed Turanchik pushed for a light rail system in the mid-90s, but his attempts failed. WMNF asked him why this time around would be any different.

 

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Turanchik also expressed disappointment at the county’s poor showing.

 

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Aside from Mark Sharpe, the other commissioners on the MPO board are Ken Hagan, the MPO board vice chair, who sent his aide to the presentation, Brian Blair, who is recovering from knee surgery, and Rose Ferlita, whose office phone was engaged all afternoon.

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