TBARTA supports referendum for light rail funding

02/27/09 Seán Kinane
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The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) voted unanimously this morning to support Hillsborough County’s efforts to build light rail. TBARTA will back a referendum that could be placed on the 2010 ballot in Hillsborough to fund transit by increasing sales tax.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has been a leader in the effort to construct four light rail lines that will link downtown Tampa with the University of South Florida, Tampa International Airport and beyond.

“And I think today’s vote to say ‘Hillsborough, you go first, you’re ready to go first,’ but it’s part of a larger regional plan, I think it’s just part of a process that you go through with a collegial body. And isn’t it great that it was unanimous that this TBARTA board, which represents seven different counties, really does see the Hillsborough rail plan as a first step towards a larger regional plan. And we’re going to keep talking about that over the next 20 months because that is really the crux of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

TBARTA’s meeting Friday at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus was billed as a board retreat. The TBARTA board also unanimously agreed to take over operations of the light rail system from HART, the county’s bus and transit system, once the rail lines cross into neighboring counties. Iorio says she looks forward to HART signing a memorandum of understanding with TBARTA once that regional rail system is in place.

“Again we have to look long term here. That for right now [HART] is the group that is analyzing the rail. And if the voters vote for it, they will be the recipient of the funds and they will be the organization that actually builds light rail and operates it …But one day that light rail will cross over into Pasco… and at that time you need an overarching organization and that’s TBARTA”

Ed Crawford, chief of public relations and government affairs with HART, calls TBARTA’s decision to be a planning agency to support projects in the short term and a regional operating agency in the long term a “very positive action.”

TBARTA Executive Director Bob Clifford said the board had a “really good discussion” about the transit authority’s future role, including supporting the local entities.

The TBARTA board unanimously agreed to help counties furthest from Tampa to get their transit plans in place. That includes helping Hernando and Citrus counties with a bus system and also assisting Sarasota and Manatee counties with their transit options.

Nora Patterson is a Sarasota County Commissioner. “We have a Small Starts application in. And it is to buy a rail corridor for what will be a very viable part of TBARTA’s current long-range plan. It’s already there.”

TBARTA Vice Chair Frank Hibbard, mayor of Clearwater, emphasized that adopting a master transit plan remains the group’s primary focus.

At a Hillsborough County Commission meeting earlier this week, Mark Sharpe mentioned a meeting he had with Mayor Iorio and others regarding mass transit. That caused Rose Ferlita to question why the County Commission was not involved because it is the body that will decide whether to place a sales-tax-for-transit referendum on the ballot. Mayor Iorio says that everyone has to be involved to form a consensus about what transit projects the community wants and about the correct referendum language.

The Florida Legislature gave TBARTA $2 million in startup funds last year, but [that funding runs out in June] (http://www.wmnf.org/news_stories/6155). Clifford says the deadline might be extended during the Legislature’s regular session that begins on Tuesday.

TBARTA Board Member Ken Hagan is a Hillsborough County Commissioner and on the county’s Transportation Task Force. He says that group met on Monday and approved a “critical path” to combine suggestions from all of the groups working on a transit system, including TBARTA. Hagan says the Transportation Task Force plans to bring its recommendations to the Hillsborough County Commission in September.



Hillsborough County Commission meeting 25 Feb 2009

TBARTA’s startup funds must be used by June 2009

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