Hillsborough may beef up bus system even without transit tax listen10/11/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Those who find getting around Hillsborough County’s roads to be treacherous may soon have some reprieve. Transit officials in Tampa are approaching two key steps they say will make it easier to get from point A to point B without a car. But one might come sooner than another.
Transit is on a lot of people’s minds these days. In about three weeks, Hillsborough County voters may approve a penny-per-dollar sales tax boost to fund a transit overhaul. But a smaller project may get underway in Hillsborough as early as next year. Katherine Eagan of is chief of development at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, (HART). She says MetroRapid, an enhanced bus system that may be functional by 2012, will be quicker than the regular bus. But it would stop short of being a full-blown bus rapid transit system.
Cities across the U.S., including Boston, Miami, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Honolulu have bus rapid transit systems. HART spokesperson Marcia Mejia says the new system wouldn’t entirely be Bus Rapid Transit, but it would include key features like traffic signal prioritization, which would give MetroRapid buses priority at traffic lights.
The first MetroRapid line would start along Hidden River Parkway in Tampa’s northeast corner. It would head west along Fletcher, with a quick stop at USF, and hang a left on Nebraska. It would then be a straight shot to Downtown Tampa. The second leg would go from Temple Terrace to Tampa International Airport. Eagan says the line would be a much faster connection for those who need to get across town via multiple buses.
The new bus system still needs final approval form the HART Board. Mejia says one concern is that the line would compete with a mass transit route slated to run nearby, even though the intent is for the line to complement the light rail or bus rapid transit line it may eventually parallel.
Unlike the light rail and bus rapid transit systems the transit tax would cover, this MetroRapid system already has funding. Capital Improvement Tax revenue bonds cover $31 million for the USF to Downtown corridor, and $3 million for the design of the east-west line. Eagan says the HART board will likely approve the finalized plan at its next meeting. This coincides with the board’s completion of its Alternatives Analysis, which Mejia says looks at possible placement for new transit systems, including, possibly, light rail.
Mejia says HART has been studying two major Hillsborough County corridors.
Public comment on the Alternatives Analysis closed last week. Mejia says residents of the corridors in question had a wide range of concerns.
Next Monday HART staff will present the Alternatives Analysis to the Board at an 8:30 a.m. meeting at the county center. The document is just one part of HART’s Rapid Transit Investment Plan. That plan would receive most of its funding from the penny-per-dollar sales tax that Hillsborough residents will vote on in November. Critics of the proposed sales tax increase say it would give Hillsborough the highest sales tax in the state. Supporters say that’s a small price to pay to make Tampa Bay residents less dependent on their cars.