Commuter rail, TBX top 2016 regional transportation priorities
Transportation leaders from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough discussed their 2016 priorities for the tri-county area Friday.
The following projects lead the list, which has not been finalized: Tampa Bay Express, a transportation hub at West Shore connecting downtown and the airport, commuter rail along CSX tracks, a regional farebox system, and improvements to the Duke Energy Trail.
Of the five, the possibility of bringing commuter rail to Tampa Bay dominated Friday’s discussion. Converting CSX freight tracks to a commuter rail system has been a hot topic since last fall, and it’s a solution many are hoping could help ease the area's traffic problems.
But Florida Department of Transportation planning manager Ming Gao reiterated to the group Friday that a premium transit study first needs to be completed to determine if this transit mode is the best solution for the area. It will likely be another two years before that study, spearheaded by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, is completed.
It could take several months beyond that to conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of purchasing the 96 miles of track from the railroad giant.
But before HART and FDOT start that study, they first need to determine its scope. That involves a lot of back and forth with leaders from the different counties. Once that’s settled, there’s a procurement process that needs to happen to select a firm. Based on that, Gao said it’s likely the study won’t get under way until the fall.
TMA members also heard a presentation from Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority which mentioned a 1.6-mile expansion to the expressway that would connect its current end at S Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge.
The expressway authority is aiming to start construction on the elevated lanes in December 2017, with the goal of opening them to traffic sometime in 2020.
In other transportation-related timelines, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told commissioners Thursday they have until April 6 to decide whether they’re putting a half cent sales tax for transportation on the November ballot. They’ll also need to decide by then whether to move forward with a new mobility fee structure.