TBARTA makes master plan public listen04/24/09 SeÃ¡n Kinane
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The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, or TBARTA, has made public its mid-term and long-term master plan. The board unanimously decided to move forward with the plan, which will be adopted next month.
Board chair Shelton Quarles, who played pro football with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they won the Super Bowl in 2003, compared the excitement of that run with TBARTAâ€™s announcement this morning.
â€œI equate this to â€“ not necessarily the Super Bowl â€“ but maybe the NFC Championship Game we played Philadelphia. It was a nice buzz in the air â€“ everybody was excited about what was about to take place and about the game, and thatâ€™s kind of what weâ€™re doing today with the unveiling of the master plan.â€
The set of routes that should be in place by 2035 is known as the mid-term regional network. It relies on a 103-mile light rail system, also called short-distance rail, predominately in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, with an extension into Pasco. In addition, a variety of expanded bus options will be prevalent in all seven TBARTA counties plus Polk.
This 25-year project is expected to cost between 13.7 billion and 25.8 billion dollars over that period. â€œThatâ€™s a lot of money to me,â€ says board chair Shelton Quarles, who added, â€œI think we can do it.â€
â€œHow â€˜bout $125 a year per household â€“ not per person in a household, per household in our area. Want to make it even simpler than that? How â€˜bout $12 â€“ 15 a month?â€ Quarles asked.
The forty-year long-term regional network adds 115 miles of commuter rail lines, also called long-distance rail, from Brooksville, Bradenton, and Lakeland to Tampa. The 2050 plan calls for extending light rail into South Tampa, north Pinellas, and between Bradenton and Sarasota and even more bus options, especially in the less-populated counties. The total cost of the entire system by 2050 could end up being 36.3 billion dollars.
But board vice chair Frank Hibbard, Mayor of Clearwater, points out that not all of that funding will have to be raised locally.
â€œWeâ€™re going to be getting money from the state, and getting money from the federal government and weâ€™re leveraging. Right now all of is in Tampa Bay are paying for mass transit â€“ just not in Tampa Bay. So your federal tax dollars are going to Arizona, theyâ€™re going to Dallas, and Charlotte. Thatâ€™s something we need to keep in mind. To be competitive, and continue to get jobs, we have to have mass transit.â€
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio stressed that the anticipated costs are for the entire regional system and each community would only build what it considers necessary.
â€œThe Hillsborough rail plan is a fraction of these numbers that are being thrown around. And really I donâ€™t think we should talk too much about the 2050 plan. I mean, by that time we could be back on the gold standard. Who knows whatâ€™s going to happen in our country? â€¦ And I canâ€™t stress that enough, because I think thereâ€™s no faster way to kill enthusiasm for a great progressive idea like light rail than throwing out a huge figure that nobody can relate to and that people think automatically is going to be something thatâ€™s not going to work.â€
Earlier this month, Hillsborough County Commissioners took a step closer to placing a referendum on the 2010 ballot to increase sales tax by a penny to pay for the countyâ€™s part of the regional plan. That includes light rail lines from downtown Tampa to USF, Westshore, and Tampa International Airport.
This week there has been discussion about Pinellas County doing the same. TBARTA board member Karen Seel, a Pinellas County Commissioner, thinks that it might be â€œprematureâ€ to ask the public to vote for a sales-tax increase in 2010.
â€œMy personal opinion is that 2012 is another general election and that would probably be better timing as far as putting a plan out to the public.â€
TBARTA executive director Bob Clifford says he shouldnâ€™t take a stand about when Pinellas should place a transit funding referendum on its ballot.
â€œI think each community has to look at it â€“ when do they believe theyâ€™re ready to have that discussion with the community.â€
Mayor Iorio asked that a representative from the stateâ€™s high speed rail authority address the TBARTA board. Thatâ€™s so TBARTAâ€™s regional rail planning can link into a possible bullet train between Tampa, Orlando and Miami.
Clifford said that in addition to sales taxes, other transportation funding options are being considered by the state Legislature as they debate the bill for the Orlando-area commuter train known as SunRail. â€œTo have an additional $2 rental [car] surtax,â€ Clifford said.
TBARTA has not requested any funding in the upcoming year because they still have funds left from their initial 2 million dollar allocation last year. But unless a Legislative change is made, they will lose the balance at the end of the fiscal year. Executive director Bob Clifford says that change is likely to be approved by both the House and Senate in Tallahassee.
â€œThe continuation of it this year, we feel very good about it. Itâ€™s in both budgets, and we believe itâ€™s going to go through, weâ€™ll just be watching that closely.â€
TBARTA will vote to adopt the master plan during their next board meeting on May 22nd and are planning a community celebration event on May 28th.
You can participate in TBARTA iTownHall Meetings about the master plan by telephone. Each night from Monday through Thursday over the next two weeks, you can call 1-877-269-7289 and enter the PIN 14837 to join the meeting.