Hillsborough school board considers linking with TBARTA

12/16/08 Seán Kinane
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In a workshop today, the Hillsborough County School Board heard from the region’s transportation authority about how the two groups might work together.

In designing a transit system for the area, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, or TBARTA, may take into account the transportation needs of public school students and the site of some future schools.

Joe Smith is a transportation advisor with the Tampa Bay Partnership, a group that helped launch TBARTA.

“Many cities around the country have working relationships with their regional transportation authorities or their municipal or county transit organizations," told the school board. "And while there are difficulties, obviously, to deal with, it’s something that with the budget that you all have for transportation, it certainly would seem to be something that you’d want to look at.”

The Hillsborough County public school district’s chief facilities officer is Cathy Valdes. She said mass transit and other transportation options for public school students, as well as changes in land-use patterns, concern both the school district and the school board.

“As we vision and we look forward for school sitings where we build schools, how we build schools, we need to be able to put it in the appropriate framework and the appropriate context," Valdes said. "So it’s really appropriate that we really be cognizant of all the initiative.”

TBARTA is in the process of developing a plan for the seven-county region’s transportation needs. Preliminary maps call for light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit and other mass transit options. Hillsborough School Board member Candy Olson said she is open to the idea of taking the transit needs of public school children into account.

"Oftentimes we could work together and save money by using the same lines, the same transportation system," she said. "And our kids don’t necessarily go to school at the same time the rush hour would come from adults. So we might be able to get a lot of economies of scale.”

If public school students rely heavily on mass transit, rather than school district-provided busses, it could save the district money. But Olsen said those savings would not be used to help TBARTA create the regional transportation system.

"I wish we could but I think there are state laws that prohibit it," Olsen said. "And in addition, we essentially only get reimbursed by the state for about 65 percent of our transportation costs. But certainly we can work together and maybe find ways to work things out.”

School Board member Doretha Edgecomb expressed concern that major transportation projects in the past displaced urban residents. When Interstate 275 was built, much of the African-American community was relocated. Edgecomb said she hopes that the rights of way needed for transit projects will not displace people from their homes or businesses.

“Change is difficult," Edgecomb said. "Urban change looks differently sometimes. And sometimes the people who are most displaced are the ones who really can’t afford to be displaced in some cases.”

The TBARTA board will meet Friday. You can find out more, including maps of preliminary transportation corridors, at tbarta.com

Hillsborough County School Board

Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, TBARTA

TBARTA draft master plan

Tampa Bay Partnership.

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