HART board may weigh BRT for Bruce B. Downs listen01/03/11 Kate Bradshaw
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If you’re stuck in traffic on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard right now, you may wonder if the gridlock will ever end. Hillsborough voters may have rejected a sales tax boost to fund a transit overhaul, but some county officials still hope to tackle traffic on Bruce B Downs many commuters know well.
Whether or not you supported the November transit initiative, which, among other things, would have funded rail, you’re probably not too keen on spending weekday afternoons moving along the pavement at a snail’s pace. Today, Beth Alden of Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization told members of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board that help could come for Bruce B. Downs in as little as two years. The question is, how.
"We have just a tremendous amount of demand in this corridor."
Alden said the plan that’s currently in its first phase between Palm Springs Boulevard and Pebble Creek Drive widens the corridor to eight lanes. Today, she recommended that the board add to that plan a twenty-foot transit envelope on the east side of the road, possibly for rail. But she said the plan has potential challenges that may be more taxing in both time and cost.
"You could not, for example, build rail in the median in the current design the way that it is unless you relocate the curbs and that would require some redesign of the project. There were some concerns that relocating those curbs would delay construction of the road."
Two key questions are whether to implement rail or bus rapid transit, and whether to locate the line in the center or side of the road in the next two segments of the project. Those who traverse the portion of Bruce B. Downs currently under construction deal with fewer right-hand turn lanes and heavier traffic, among other things. Alden said the median option may have its challenges, but making way for a transit system on the east side may cause all kinds of headaches as well.
"This is a more serious implication in terms of access to properties along the road if you're talking about entirely removing access along the east side of the road, or you have to figure out some alternate way to access those properties and developments."
Alden said the Hillsborough MPO surveyed some 130 residents from the surrounding area on what public transportation mode they’d like to see along Bruce B. Downs, and in which part along the road. They were asked to choose from four options. She said while most of them preferred rail, they’d also accept bus rapid transit on the road’s two outer lanes. Such a system would run public buses on designated lanes and time traffic lights so the buses have to stop less frequently than regular traffic.
"They would much rather have rail. You know, everything else being equal, they'd really love to have rail serving their area, but maybe this is the most realistic scenario if rail is impossible."
Board members had a number of questions about the project. Fran Davin said she wasn’t sure the project would ease congestion if it didn’t address the issue of access from northern Hillsborough and southern Pasco counties.
Davin: "When you are northbound and you get to Countyline Road at 75, is there going to be any access from Countyline Road onto either northbound or southbound?"
Alden: "There are no new interchanges planned that I am aware of."
Davin: "Which means we still, in the north end of the city, have one way to get in and out."
Board member Kevin Beckner asked Alden if the cost had been calculated yet.
"Have we done cost analysis on each of those four scenarios as far as what the capital expenditures would be versus, also, what the operating expenditures would be for the different modes of transportation?"
Alden said the project is part of a long-range countywide transportation plan, which assumes voters will pass a sales tax boost that would fund transit. Board member Sandy Murman said it’s a good time to reflect on what went wrong with the transit referendum, and weigh options that might sit better with the public in terms of funding and mode.
"Now, I think, this is a good time to look at what we didn't do and move forward and say maybe we can apply this concept to other areas without incurring a whole lot of extra costs when we've got road lane expansion already on the horizon in those areas."
HART CEO David Armijo said it’s important that the public understand that the transit plan is much bigger than the adoption of rail along a couple of corridors.
"We're looking outwards of 30 years, and in some cases even outwards of 50 years and, in fact, we identify well over a dozen corridors throughout Hillsborough County. However, the timeline is that those corridors studied that you're describing including down in Brandon, South County, all the way to Ruskin, all these different areas. All of those are plans that we'll be developing coming out over the next several years. The problem we're into right now is the funding to do those plans."
Region-wide, some officials hope Hillsborough’s transit aspirations, with the blessing of enough voters, will dovetail with those of other counties. Leaders in Pasco and Pinellas have been talking about developing their own transit overhauls. Pinellas officials had talked about putting a transit tax referendum on the ballot as early as this year, but recently said they’d wait until at least 2012. Board member David Mechanik said they pushed the vote back because they wanted to flesh out a transit plan.
"I think that newspaper headlines tended to make that sound like 'Pinellas put the brakes on transit', or the 'transit initiative', which is not what really happened. I think they just decided that they wanted to allow a little more time to get their ducks in a row."
Mechanik added that Pinellas has started its alternatives analysis, a key initial step in the process of applying for federal matching funds for transit projects. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority plans to get an update on its own alternatives analysis at an upcoming workshop.