TBARTA board discusses funding, cooperation

01/22/10 Arielle Stevenson
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A lengthy agenda awaited board members at this morning’s Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) meeting. At the top of the list was approving $4 million for the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization to study how to link transportation projects between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. R.B. Johnson chairs the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board and says this memorandum is historic:

Now I would say that a perfect illustration of our intent to plan for transportation in a non-parochial manner is the effort to bridge the bay via rail. An effort that this MOU brings to the fore. This is the kind of coordinated planning undertaken by regional parties that makes a huge impression on the Federal Transit Administration. Our success in working together on issues such as this will lead directly to future intention and success with the FTA. So what we are agreeing to now is the delineation model for future successful region wide transit planning. And this, make no mistake about it, is truly historic.

The funding was approved. Come November, Hillsborough residents will vote on a referendum proposing a one cent sales tax increase to fund transportation in Hillsborough County. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio says that the information Pinellas’s study will aide in the November vote.

"We will be able to say as we campaign for this on the November 2nd ballot that the studies are already underway to show how we can effectively link to Pinellas," Iorio said.

The board also discussed the possibility of pursuing alternate funding avenues such as a rental car surcharge to fund transportation initiatives. That surcharge could result in upwards of $20 million in funds. But Iorio cautioned her fellow board members about seeking funds without a plan.

Iorio: You know for some reason, there continues to be this thought that TBARTA has to talk about what kind of organization it wants to be. But I feel that it already is serving its very important function of regionality. Here in our county in Hillsborough because so much is happening I feel they are filling their role, but maybe in another county where there isn’t a looming referendum they feel that something has to be defined to a greater degree. One thing for sure, I am never for asking for money without a game plan. I think we have to be very careful when approaching the legislature and really only ask for the monies TBARTA needs to operate administratively.

According to new board member Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, it's not yet determined whether TBARTA will serve to plan or fund transportation projects.

Welch: *I think where TBARTA is right in trying to identify our role going forward in terms of supporting what the individual counties are doing in terms of their transportation plans. Hillsborough will be the first one out with the referendum this year. Behind that is Pinellas, and then other counties. The real question we have is do we continue to be a planning and coordination body or do we want to try to be able to support those projects as a fiscal partner. And that’s what most of the debate was about today.

WMNF: What do you see as some of the hurdles in bridges Pinellas and Hillsborough’s mass transit initiatives?

Welch: The great thing is that there is an understanding with all the bodies, the MPO’s, the transit organizations, the cities and the counties that a successful regional plan requires that we all work together. And that the systems, the technologies, work together. That the rail coming out of Hillsborough is compatible with the Pinellas rail. So our success depends on each other and that’s a great motivator. So Im really optimistic about what I'm seeing here.

Hillsborough County is seeking input on how a proposed penny sales tax increase should be spent. The first of seven Transportation Task Force meetings will be in Ruskin on February 2nd. For more information visit Taskforce

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