Regional Transit Authority meets in Tampa listen08/21/07 Seán Kinane
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A year ago leaders from around Tampa Bay decided to lobby for legislation to form a regional transportation authority.
The Florida Legislature unanimously passed legislation creating the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, or TBARTA. It is responsible for producing a regional multimodal transportation master plan for the seven coastal counties from Sarasota to Citrus.
This morning TBARTA held a public forum at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in East Tampa.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio discussed the unveiling of a Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization plan for the county’s transit system and told WMNF that the TBARTA regional forum is a way for the different counties to combine their plans into a regional strategy.
“What this authority will be able to do is to take all of those plans and mesh them into one: how will the whole region be served? And then once we have a plan that is sensible and it’s detailed, then we can take an issue to the voters of a referendum for funding for a plan.
"You know what? We’ve made a lot of progress in one year; from talking conceptually about a regional authority to a year later having the regional authority in place - having an update of the Hillsborough transportation and transit plan. I think a lot’s been accomplished in just one year.”
A plan should be in place by 2009 and Iorio thinks that it could begin to be implemented soon afterward.
“I suspect we can take something to the voters in 2010. And if the voters approve a funding source and we can aggressively go after federal monies, then I think in the second decade of this century we can lay the groundwork for rail. And you know, rail ought to be incremental. The worst thing you could probably do is go out and just build some expensive system that people aren’t ready to ride yet.”
Amy Lettelleir, chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership Transportation Funding Task Force, said that every option of funding regional transportation would be pursued. Some include state and federal matching funds, public-private partnerships, a gas tax, a rental car surcharge, adding toll lanes to the interstate system, and up to a 1-cent sales tax for transportation. The last option is only available to a few Florida counties, including Sarasota, Pinellas, and Hillsborough, but there may be a way for the state to allow other counties to participate. If that happened, then a combined income from all seven counties instituting a 1-cent transportation surtax could raise an estimated $450 million per year which could support a $6-billion bond for construction of a regional transit system.
Lettelleir stressed that all of the counties in the region had to work together to secure funding.
“The success of the projects that are going to come out of the TBARTA is going to require the funding from all of the areas. No one can do it alone or it would have moved forward already. Not even Hillsborough County would be able to do a lot of the things that have been discussed in this area on their money alone. They need the support of the connections to Pasco and St. Petersburg and Sarasota and Manatee in order to get it built.”
Maria Garcia Berry was part of the FasTracks Campaign to bring 119 miles of rail to the Denver region. She said that more than $6 billion in capital improvements was funded by a 4-cent sales tax.
Berry mentioned that it was important to involve a wide range of interested parties in the planning experience. But the TBARTA Board is made up of elected officials plus four business leaders who will be appointed by the governor.
WMNF asked Berry whether it was wise to exclude community activists, environmentalists and academics from the transportation field from the Board.
“Well, it’s my understanding that the legislation also mandates a citizen's advisory committee which will be, I think, it’s a 16-member advisory committee that’s made up of citizens throughout the region … But I also think that the members and also the staff in the process are going to have to go out and talk to the community a lot.”
Berry was encouraged by the Legislature’s creation of TBARTA.
“Your legislation is very innovative and very cutting edge because you’ve allowed for all kinds of vehicles to be considered.”
State Representative Bill Galvano stressed why this area in particular needs a regional solution.
“You know, when I read Forbes magazine and they talk about the Tampa area as being one of those regions that has a disproportionate share of personal income going toward transportation, that means it’s time to act. Then, it’s really a quality-of-life issue….”
The first meeting of the TBARTA Board will be this Friday morning beginning at 9 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in East Tampa. On Saturday, the Hillsborough Metropolitan Panning Organization will publicly unveil its long-range transit plan at the Museum of Science & Industry on Fowler Avenue in Tampa.