TBARTA adopts regional transportation master plan

05/22/09 Seán Kinane
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This morning the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, or TBARTA, voted to adopt its master plan.

“All in favor? Aye. All opposed? There’s history.”

TBARTA board chair, Shelton Quarles announced the adoption of mid-term and long-term regional networks that are expected to be in place by 2035 and 2050 respectively. The plans include rail, bus, and managed highway routes throughout the seven-county region. They were made public last month and were only slightly modified Friday morning. The Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization asked TBARTA executive director Bob Clifford to speed up the timetable of one light rail line between north Hillsborough and north Pinellas County.

“Moving from the long-range map … to the mid-term map, the light rail connection across the top of Tampa Bay that goes from the Linebaugh Avenue area in Hillsborough County across the top of the Bay through Safety Harbor, Oldsmar, and into Clearwater, along that corridor. They’ve asked us to make that change. From a staff perspective, we would concur with that, we’re fine with that.”

In the month since the master plans were made public, TBARTA has held “extensive” public hearings in person and over the phone in what they call iTownHall meetings. Clifford says that 30,646 residents participated. People asked about connections to airports, access for people with disabilities or elderly persons, bikes, taxes, the cost of the system, and “question of connections from point A to point B …”

Hillsborough County will likely be the first community to levy a tax to pay for their part of the transit system – through a sales tax referendum on the 2010 ballot. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, whose city will host the first light rail lines connecting downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida and Tampa International Airport has voiced strong support for TBARTA’s effort.

“Today is a historic day for the Tampa Bay region. Never before have seven counties gotten together to … say ‘hey, transit is important.’”

Each county will pay to construct the bus and rail portions of the master plan within its borders. But Mayor Iorio says that connections between counties would be paid for by TBARTA, which will also operate the systems that cross county lines.

“There’s a difference between what sales tax within a county pay for [and] monies that TBARTA over time will go after on the state level that will pay for other things.”

The seven TBARTA counties, Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota, might have more differences than similarities when it comes to transportation needs. That led Shelton Quarles to compare the teamwork exhibited by the representatives from the seven counties to how his teammates on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worked together to win the 2003 Super Bowl.

“I’m excited. I was a little bit leery at the first part of this undertaking. But with each and every day, you know, it renews my enthusiasm for what we’re doing for not only Tampa, but for our surrounding counties.”

St. Petersburg City Council member Jeff Danner calls the mid-term and long-term regional network a “great plan” and believes that Pinellas and St. Pete residents will agree to fund their part of the transit puzzle. “I think so. Our early indications are that people are ready for this.”

The financial allocation for TBARTA is included in the budget that was approved by the state Legislature and is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature, according to Clifford. But the legislature has raided the state transportation trust fund and Clifford says other funding sources that TBARTA hoped to tap in the future for operating expenses may not be available.

“Like rental car surtax, that did not pass. Tag fees were increased. But what was interesting about that is – something that’s been talked about for a while, talked about using those dollars to backstop transportation – unfortunately … the dollars don’t go to transportation, they go to general revenue.”

Beginning at their next meeting on June 26th, the TBARTA board will discuss project priorities and funding options in order to prioritize and study individual projects. On Thursday May 28th, TBARTA will present the master plan to state officials including Governor Charlie Crist at the Tampa International Jet Center.

In transportation news that’s not directly related to TBARTA, Bob Clifford says that Florida officials plan to apply for about 2 billion federal stimulus dollars for a high-speed line between Tampa and Orlando.

WMNF coverage of last TBARTA meeting


TBARTA master transportation plans

TBARTA Presentation of Adopted Master Plan on May 28

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