HART board considers economic development around transit lines

11/02/09 Seán Kinane
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On Wednesday, Hillsborough County Commissioners will begin considering if they should let voters decide to raise the sales tax to pay for transportation. Light rail lines linking downtown Tampa with USF and Westshore would be the first mass transit projects to be constructed if citizens approve a one-cent sales tax increase.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), would also use some of the funds to enhance bus service in the county. This morning, the HART board heard from Alan Wulkan, a managing partner with the consulting firm InfraConsult. He was chair of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce when they passed Arizona’s first sales tax increase for transit. Wulkan says the economic development benefits from the construction of that light rail line are many times the initial cost of construction.

Alan Wulkan: “That line was going to cost about $1.4 billion. Today, while the construction of that line was underway—and we’ve only been open one year—there has been $7.4 billion in non-rail development along that 20-mile line. Over 17,000 residential units. Over 9 million square feet of commercial. Over 3,200 new hotel rooms. The amount of residential happening in downtown Phoenix is mind boggling.”

According to a HART spokesperson, Wulkan has been retained as a contractor to help with planning for the transit investment project. He says that if voters approve funding for light rail, expanded bus service, and road projects in Hillsborough, the county can expect similar payback from economic development as other cities that recently added mass transit.

Wulkan: “The excitement of the business community in not only Phoenix, but in Salt Lake and in Houston and in Dallas—cities that do not have the rich history of public transportation—after they’ve made the commitment to light rail and expanded public transit, are great examples for us to look at as we move forward in developing our transit network in Hillsborough County.”

According to the St. Petersburg Times, five of the seven Hillsborough County Commissioners are leaning toward putting the transit tax referendum on next November’s ballot. One of those five is Republican Mark Sharpe, a HART board member who says that Hillsborough can benefit from development along transit lines and at train stations, just like Charlotte, Salt Lake City, and Dallas have done.

Mark Sharpe: “There was just amazing examples of very unique and creative development along these stops. In Charlotte we saw the park and ride that had the soccer field on top of it. And it saved them a lot of money. They were able to build a soccer field for about a half million dollars, where it would have cost them $2 or $3 million to acquire the land and build one. It was used by students at a local school.”

Late this afternoon the 2009 Regional Transportation Forum was held in east Tampa.

In other transit news, today Attorney General Bill McCollum wrote to the Florida Department of Transportation, saying he strongly supports legislation to create a commuter rail line in the Orlando area.



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