HARTLine board reverses funding decision
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03/05/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Reacting to criticism, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency, also known as HARTLine, today reversed its decision to use nearly $1-million on bus service instead of extending the Tampa streetcar line into downtown.

The $900,000 federal grant was originally intended to go toward extending the 2.4-mile streetcar line from the Convention Center to Whiting Street in downtown. Instead, the Hartline board voted in February to use the grant to buy another bus and increase service on Nebraska Avenue.

Board member Wallace Bowers questioned the decision, saying HARTLine must decide how to spend the grant or miss a deadline and lose the money. The streetcar cannot qualify for additional federal help until it shows a sound business plan.

Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder suggested the board delay any action on the funding until the Council convenes a meeting with various other local agencies.

Recently, HARTLine officials, in discussion with their brethren in St. Petersburg, have discussed putting up a referendum in 2010 asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to pay for better mass transit.

But Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said the last thing the board should be doing is spending money that doesn’t improve overall service in the area. Sharpe said he did support the trolley, but wanted to focus on HARTLine’s "core mission."

Hartline member Ron Govin said he considered the Streetcar an icon of Tampa, but said if the extension into downtown is constructed, it will be a vital part of the bay area’s transportation services.

The city of Tampa is hoping that the extension into downtown will increase ridership among locals and tourists. The move is projected to add 80,000 riders a year. The total cost of the that expansion is supposed to cost $4.5-million.

HARTLine staff told officials that the actual deadline to spend the federal grant is at the end of September, not next month.

HARTLine CEO David Armijo said it was important to realized that at this time, the streetcar still does not have full funding for the expansion. Board members voted to reverse their vote on allocating the federal grant toward bus service; they will meet soon with other local governments and boards about the business plan.

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