Residents weigh in on Tampa Bay's transit future

07/30/10 Kelly Benjamin
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What will the future of transit look like in the Tampa Bay area? A crowd of more than 100 discussed that question last night at the Tampa Museum of Art.

The Transit Talk focused mainly on the 1-cent sales tax referendum that will be up for a vote this November. If it passes, it will help fund light rail service and other transportation improvements in Hillsborough County. One panelist, Brian Willis, is a citizen adviser to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.

"People are stuck in traffic on I-275. Stuck in traffic on all Tampa's roads. Recognize that this isn't a sustainable model, and that we need to give people transit alternatives to help them get around."

One of the common arguments is density. How do you address that issue?

"Well, I think people have given examples. This light rail that we're planning on doing has been done in Charlotte, it's been done in Arizona, and it works there with similar density to Tampa. The other thing is that I remember when they built the Veteran's Expressway, and nobody was on it. So, it's not just about today, it's about where we want to be in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. If we don't want to have twenty lane roads, the we better start planning for alternative today."

Former Tampa City Council member and current County Commission candidate John Dingfelder is a strong light rail advocate who encouraged the crowd to get more involved with on the ground campaigning to help pass the transit referendum. Dingfelder responded to critics of the proposed tax who feel that during a recession is not the right time to undertake such a project.

"It's exactly the right time. You can always argue that it's never a good time to raise taxes. Nobody like to raise taxes, but at the end of the day it's about raising funds to build for our future. That's what it's about. It's never a good time to do that, but now is exactly the time to do it. We're missing great opportunities. The City of Tampa and Hillsborough County built Charlotte's train system that I rode a couple months ago. They built Salt Lake City's system because we pay federal taxes, and our federal taxes go to these other systems. Now is the time for us to spend the money to do it for ourselves. And we'll get other communities taxes from around the country to help us."

The Transit Talk was hosted by Tampa's Urban Charette, a local urban planning and design non-profit.

ballot language for the November election

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