Despite new maps, still no plans for Tampa light rail

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A new draft for a possible light rail system running from the USF area to Downtown Tampa and toward Westshore did not go far Monday morning. Based on the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board meeting, rail supporters shouldn’t hold their breath.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership requested the study and a certified planner, Rich Clarendon of Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the route will cost less than a billion dollars— much lower than what bigger cities like Charlotte or Portland spend. But the board asked him to think bigger. He has questions of his own for them.

“And then we looked at a more qualitative assessment: Are we serving the markets that we need to? Will there be an opportunity to promote and stimulate new development? How does that connect to other modes? Can we connect or integrate with the existing bus system?”

HART’s board chair and Tampa City Council member, Mike Suarez, is more concerned about how to get the Florida Department of Transportation’s support.

“The head of the transportation committee of the legislature is not a rail fan, ok? So if we’re going to put something in the middle of 275, if we don’t have buy-in from FDOT, it doesn’t really matter what if we say we want to put it in there unless we have somebody on our side at FDOT that’s willing to say, ‘Yeah, you can put a rail down here’.”

HART’s interim CEO, Katharine Eagan, says there’s a lot of market research and outreach to do before a plan can be decided on.

“There has not been an overall focus for just where the transit would go.”

She recommends the public get involved to help with the process.

“Talk to your county commissioner. Tell them what you’d like to see, what’s important to you, what’s a good investment.”