Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

Romano: Trust your gut on Greenlight Pinellas

Forget the cheerleaders. For that matter, forget the critics, too.

When it comes to this fall's monumental decision on Greenlight Pinellas, it might be best to ignore the bombast and trust your gut.

Because no matter what either side would have you believe, the feasibility of mass transit will never be as simple as yes or no around here.

You can believe in mass transit with all your heart and still wonder if this market is too fragmented to support light rail. Conversely, you can be concerned about the size of the investment and still recognize that perpetual status quo is an invitation to decay.

So how do we come to a resolution? By settling on a vision for the future.

Pinellas County is a bizarre place, and that is not meant as a slight. It is just the reality of what may be America's largest, and most isolated, bedroom community.

We have a population that warrants mass transit, but without the downtown or corporate base that would make it a foregone conclusion.

In some ways, that makes Greenlight Pinellas more than just a question of traffic, buses and light rail. In many ways, it is a referendum on this community's direction.

If you believe this county has the potential to grow and attract business, then Greenlight Pinellas is a logical investment. That doesn't mean light rail will be a guaranteed success, but it will give Pinellas its best chance to compete and succeed.

And if you believe this county's economy will forever be tethered to the service industry, then you could argue that light rail will be nothing more than an expensive amenity.

The important thing is to understand what's at stake.

This is not a bunch of politicians scheming to fatten government coffers. When done right, mass transit is a legitimate way to promote economic growth. It attracts new businesses, provides new jobs and improves an area's marketability. It also reduces oil dependency, traffic jams and the eternal paving of roads.

To portray it as some sinister plot is just nonsense.

Can it be a miscalculation? Yes. Can there be hidden costs? Yes. Are there cases where it did not work precisely as envisioned? Yes.

But there are also plenty of markets that have embraced mass transit. Light rail has worked well enough in Minneapolis that St. Paul is now preparing to climb aboard. Phoenix is relatively new to the light rail world, and already planning expansions. Ditto Salt Lake City. Orlando's light rail is exceeding expectations.

None of that means it will be a success in Pinellas, if it comes to pass. Like I said, this market operates under some unique circumstances.

If it helps to understand the ramifications, we do have a history with this type of investment tax. Penny for Pinellas has been approved twice by voters and has helped fund a variety of projects, including the Bayside Bridge. By most measures, it has been a huge boon.

Personally, I believe in community investments. Like any other business, you have to spend money to make money. I don't think light rail is a slam-dunk solution, but it's better than praying for less traffic.

Yet, in the end, what I think doesn't matter. It is still up to you and your neighbors to decide in November.

It should not be about antitax crusaders, and it should not be about someone else's philosophies or visions.

This is your community. And your hopes for our future.


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