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Commuter trains may be in Tampa Bay area's future

When you visualize getting around the Tampa Bay area many years from now, where are your Point A and Point B? What's the most logical connection between them?

Those are the kinds of questions a high-powered group of transportation planners will bring to north Hillsborough on Monday in hopes of getting a public response. "Are we connecting the right places?" asks Bob Clifford, the district planning director for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Clifford is heading the staff support for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, a new group led by elected officials and empowered to someday build commuter trains.

TBARTA is launching a series of seven open houses over 10 days, one in each county served by TBARTA. Monday's event is the first, planned for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn off Fletcher Avenue just west of Interstate 75. In Pasco, a workshop will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 18 at the West Pasco Government Center, 7530 Little Road, in New Port Richey.

Commuter trains could be many years away. But when they eventually come to Tampa Bay, Tampa is the likely hub, and north Hillsborough County could have some conduits.

Trains have rolled through Lutz for a century, and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard is often cited as a logical corridor for rail.

TBARTA is trying to develop a transit plan this year. With that in hand, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, a member of TBARTA's governing board, wants to schedule a sales-tax referendum in 2010.

New Tampa's Shawn Harrison, a former City Council member, is another board member. He said a key purpose of Monday's open house will be simply to introduce the public to TBARTA, created last spring by the Legislature.

Clifford said the time seems right for rail planning. Commuting is costing Tampa Bay area residents much more than their counterparts in other metropolitan areas, and commute times here are increasing.

"There are some places where there aren't going to be anymore lanes," Clifford said.

"Bruce B. Downs is just about to be widened and so is the interstate (75), and there's still going to be congestion."

Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

.fast facts

Open house

Monday's open house will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 13305 Tampa Oaks Blvd., southwest of the Interstate 75 interchange at Fletcher Avenue. For details, call Brandie Miklus at (813) 217-4037.

A similar open house in Pasco will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 18 at the West Pasco Government Center on Little Road.

Commuter trains may be in Tampa Bay area's future 03/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2008 4:03pm]
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