Transit Leaders Hear Good News on Federal Funds - Sort Of

03/08/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today, transportation leaders from across the Tampa Bay area met with U.S. Congress member John Mica, who represents a portion of central Florida near Orlando. He told them not to worry about federal funds for high-speed rail, but added they need to get their act together when it comes to local transit.

All of the key players from the transit sector—from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority to local city council members—showed up to hear Mica, the Republican leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio had a simple but impassioned message.

Iorio said the area is taking a regional approach, with Hillsborough County being the first of six area counties to overhaul its transit system if voters approve a transit tax in November.

Though a Republican, Mica said that if the transit overhaul requires a tax, he will support it. Success for fixed regional transit in Tampa Bay, he said, is vital. The representative said this is because federal funds for high-speed rail connecting Tampa to Orlando depend on healthy public transit on either end of the line. In January, Florida received 1.2 billion dollars in federal stimulus funds, about half of what is needed for a bullet train between Tampa and Orlando. Mica said it’s likely federal funds will cover the rest.

A long-term bill would bring even more money for rail, he said.

Mica said that because of the amount of time long-term rail projects take, it would be impossible to spend all of a given project’s allotted funds. He added that if voters don’t adopt the penny transit tax in Hillsborough, a transit overhaul is still possible.

Previous WMNF coverage of local transit: HART board mulls transit tax ballot language; Hillsborough commissioners agree on city-county split for transit tax funds; TBARTA works on 50-year transportation plan

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