MPO adopts green amendment to 25-year transit plan
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08/03/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The MPO board.


photo by Kate Bradshaw, WMNF

If you’re stuck in traffic right now, you may be thinking Tampa Bay is in quite a pickle when it comes to getting people where they need to go. A smooth commute may seem a long way off, but the gears are turning in some halls of government. Today the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, updated its 25-year countywide transit plan. They debated a couple of new projects, and the greener of the two made it in.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and MPO board member Mark Sharpe said the recent death of Admiral LeRoy Collins is a chilling example of how unsafe it is for bicyclists in Hillsborough County.

"Yesterday, I attended the funeral of an American hero. A gentleman, 75 year old Admiral Collins, who died bicycling, just last week. I think it highlights the fact [that] we've got some of the most dangerous roads in the county for pedestrians and for bicyclists."

Sharpe and the eleven other MPO board members all supported the creation of a paved bike path called the South Coast Greenway, which would run from Ruskin to Tampa with side trails in Riverview, Sun City Center, and other communities. Marilyn Safian of Sun City Center cited a range of reasons that she wants to see the project come about.

"Sun City Center is a town that's full of walkers and bike riders. As a matter of fact, if you visit us at six or seven in the morning, the road is just crowded with walkers and bike riders. I'm very concerned that the Tampa Bay area had one of the highest bike fatality rates in the nation, for pedestrians and bike riders. We badly need places for people to walk and bike ride safely. For people of all ages, especially school children. These kind of amenities attract new residents, businesses, and raise property values."

As one might imagine, the trail also got the thumbs up from the environmental community, including Sierra Club Outings Chair Gail Parsons, who said it would enhance the health of South County residents.

"Well, let's look at the Health issues. We need trails to address that issue. They're very important. We want you to prioritize them. We need trails tomorrow, not five years or twenty years down the road."

The board did vote to prioritize the project. The trail is part of the MPO’s 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan, something metro areas across the country are adopting. The $12 billion plan includes amped-up road ways, public transit, and pedestrian trails. The MPO plan includes rail plans that align with those of TBARTA and HART. One of the big questions was where the money would come from. When County Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked MPO staffer Wally Blaine if the bike path would be funded with revenue from a transit tax voters have yet to approve, Blaine said surplus federal funds would do the trick.

"This would be revenue that is the federal allocation that we receive on a normal basis. We have an assumption of how much revenue we'll receive over the life of the plan through 2035. At this point in time, we have not allocated all of that revenue to projects. We do have a balance in our revenues."

The MPO was also supposed to consider a project very different from the green way in its plan – the widening of a portion of Lithia-Pinecrest Road running between Lumsden Road and Bloomingdale Avenue. County Commissioner Rose Ferlita said the project sparked widespread public outcry.

"We had overwhelming opposition in our policy committee. I think, probably, that's what the staff looked at, and decided that it was better that they removed that because of the opposition. The opposition was pretty strong and heavily heard."

Activist George Niemann said widening the road wouldn’t deal with the source of the congestion, which he said was Fishhawk Ranch and other outlying communities.

"The problem stems with with Fishhawk, and the traffic to and from Fishhawk. Again, the previous proposal to go to four lanes was a proposal to fix and provide a north south solution to an east west problem. When this comes up again, I would say even before this comes up again, I think we all need - both the Board of County Commissioners, as well as the MPO, and the staffs- to refocus both our energy and our money."

But Dorothy Greer, who lives along the often-gridlocked roadway, said Lithia-Pinecrest currently a nightmare.

"Even to get from sixty to my house is unbelievable because of the stop in the traffic on Lithia-Pinecrest and Lumpston. I mean, it's backed up so far north just to get through that light and get through that intersection. And then, when you go down to Bloomingdale, it's a real headache. So, the bottom line is: we need it!

The MPO board didn’t agree on whether there’s a need to widen Lithia-Pinecrest to four lanes, but they did elect to table the plan until the future. MPO Director Ray Chiaramonte said the project wasn’t exactly supposed to break ground tomorrow.

"This would be revenue that is the federal allocation that we receive on a normal basis. We have an assumption of how much revenue we'll receive over the life of the plan through 2035. At this point in time, we have not allocated all of that revenue to projects. We do have a balance in our revenues."

The next MPO event takes place August eighteenth at Union Station, which is at 601 North Nebraska in Tampa. They’ll be discussing the question of whether it’s feasible to create a greenway trail under the Leroy Selmon Expressway.

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