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HART gives up on Brandon transfer station plan

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit has abandoned plans to create a large transfer station in Brandon where passengers could wait in comfort for a bus to zip them to downtown Tampa or MacDill Air Force Base.

HART wanted to build a park-and-ride center with room for 200 to 250 vehicles and other amenities such as restrooms that are available at few of HART's nearly two dozen smaller park-and-ride lots.

The agency abandoned the Brandon park-and-ride project because costs soared about $1.6 million above original estimates of $2.25 million, said Marcia Mejia, HART spokeswoman. The agency spent about $55,000 of the money.

That means some commuters who would have parked in a large, lighted lot under the watch of security cameras and patrols still face parking on the street or in spots where business owners might ask them to move.

HART planners hoped the larger lot with a snack bar and more secure parking would lure more riders as well as handle anticipated growth in ridership. It also would have made it more convenient for commuters.

The decision means passengers who want to leave their cars and ride a bus to Tampa will continue to use the scattered lots, many with only a bench for riders.

It also means passengers leaving their vehicles at the Westfield Brandon mall will continue dueling for space when shoppers overflow the mall lots during the holidays. The abandoned park-and-ride project would have replaced the mall transfer area, Mejia said.

The move leaves a park-and-ride station planned for an area north of Fletcher Avenue and east of Interstate 75 as the only regional park-and-ride center. HART intends that one mainly for riders of bus rapid transit service it is developing, she said.

HART budgeted $1.75 million for that station that's expected to open early next year.

Eliminating the Brandon project freed $2.2 million and was part of $8.9 million of Capital Improvement Tax money the agency returned to Hillsborough County to use for its own projects. The money was part of $40 million in transportation money that Hillsborough gave HART in 2008.

The Brandon project stumbled over a site for the station.

HART was negotiating for about 4 acres on Falkenberg Road just south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and west of I-75.

But the owner was less than eager to sell and the property was less than ideal for HART's uses. Last year the owner rejected an offer of $1.38 million and a deal was never made.

On HART's part, the site's location on a divided highway created awkward turns out of the lot.

"We would have had to back-track some buses to get to their route. It would have been very expensive," Mejia said.

HART expected buses on the 25LX, 27LX and 53LX routes would stop at the Brandon station before taking the expressway to downtown or toward MacDill. About 85,000 people used those routes last year, Mejia said. Also, local routes would have used the site.

In addition to the $2.2 million from the Brandon project, HART returned about $6.8 million from its two bus rapid transit projects. The savings came from reduced construction costs and less spent on a design.

.Fast Facts

More people using the bus

• While HART is hurting financially due to decreased revenue from property taxes, ridership is booming. May ridership was 1,221,771, up 3.8 percent, the 28th consecutive month for bus ridership increases.

• Overall, ridership is up 6 percent since October, according to HART. Buses are growing more popular in the Brandon area. Ridership on area express buses is up 20.7 percent since last year.

• More than 870,000 riders used the express and local buses in the Brandon area last year, and all showed more riders in fiscal 2011 than the year before, with the percentage increase reaching double digits for some routes.

HART gives up on Brandon transfer station plan 07/26/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 26, 2012 5:30am]

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