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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill Foster, the rail mayor?



ST. PETERSBURG -- He wasn't at the head table, but seated in the last row. Mayor Bill Foster also didn't last more than 35 minutes inside Monday morning's transportation "summit" on light rail in Pinellas County.

But Foster, who had to be at a school, said he intends to make rail a higher priority than predecessor Rick Baker did. Foster might even go to meetings of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, an event Baker didn't seem to make much.

"I might, I might. Let me see how this transit authority does," said Foster, referring to a task force being formed by County Commissioner Karen Seel.

Foster described himself as a rider of the Metro when he goes to Washington -- easy to change from red to blue lines, he said -- though he hasn't yet lobbied for rail funding for a Pinellas system.

But money to connect St. Petersburg to Tampa with light rail "ought to be" from the federal government, a la the way a high speed line between Tampa and Orlando will be paid, Foster said.

The two-hour event includes a discussion of high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, how rail works in Phoenix and how it might work in Pinellas.

"We know a couple things have to take place. One is support from the business community. Without that, certainly there is no chance of succeeding. Second is having the information and the vision," said Steve Raymund, chairman of the board of Tech Data and co-chair of the event with Seel.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority director Tim Garling has opened up by calling the recently announced high speed rail project a "game changer."

The event will conclude with Seel's announcement of a task force on transportation. Rail advocates are pushing a sales tax increase to pay for light rail linking to Tampa and adding more buses.

If it seems all this has happened before, Seel read from a newspaper story about the need for "unification" in the county to pull off rail. It ran in 1983.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer


[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:29pm]


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