Both sides of Tampa Bay take early steps toward mass transit: Am I dreaming?
Wake up and good morning. I don't hear All aboard! quite yet but there's some distinct acceleration under way -- in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties -- in Tampa Bay's journey toward a 21st century mass transit system.
First, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 5-2 to place a penny sales tax referendum on November's ballot. A majority of board members said the county's transportation woes will only get worse, and that we can't build enough roads to keep pace with the expected growth. Here's the St. Petersburg Times coverage as well as the Tampa Tribune story on that vote.
These five commissioners voted for moving forward with a penny sales tax referendum next November. They are, in order (starting upper left): Mark Sharpe, Ken Hagan, Rose Ferlita, Kevin White and Kevin Beckner.
That's only half the story. After years of inaction and watching Hillsborough County forge ahead, Pinellas County's transit agency voted Wednesday to add light rail to its 10-year plan.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, the action marks the first time light rail has been part of the agency's state-mandated plan instead of an abstract idea. The plan lays out how the system could operate in Pinellas.
A 26-mile route between St. Petersburg and Clearwater would be done in two phases, completed by 2033. The $2.67 billion system would include a junction in the Gateway area and a Tampa connection over the Howard Frankland Bridge. Here's the complete St. Pete Times story.
The mass transit saga has many, many uphill miles to go. But it's encouraging to see both sides of the bay starting to take more serious steps toward what, we hope, will be a viable regional system.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist