HART has plans to beef up transit hub on Falkenburg Road

BRANDON — Hillsborough Area Regional Transit plans to build a park-and-ride station at Falkenburg Road to connect Brandon commuters to downtown Tampa and MacDill Air Force Base.

The agency says it's negotiating to purchase property just east of Falkenburg and south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to accommodate 200 to 250 cars. The 25LX and 27LX buses would stop there and then take the expressway into downtown or toward MacDill. Two more routes, the 22X and 24X, as well as some local buses, might make stops there as well.

HART says it's finalizing route configurations and fine-tuning the facility's overall design. It would be unlike other HART park-and-ride stops, the agency said. In addition to covered waiting areas with benches, the agency wants to include restrooms and an indoor snack bar or some other leased space. Now, many of the stops are little more than a bench at a shopping center parking lot.

"Potentially we're looking at a building with a small shopping area," said Les Weakland, a HART project manager. "People could drop off their dry cleaning, or maybe we could have a small coffee shop."

"Whatever we can do to help those riders out there, that's what we're trying to do," he said.

Officials hope to present a land purchase proposal to the agency's board of directors in January and open the station by March 2013.

The plan comes amid steady growth in HART's local and express routes, mirroring trends nationally. Ridership on express routes from Brandon, Dover, FishHawk and other points east of Interstate 75 increased by double-digit percentages this past year, the agency's records show.

HART's proposal is part an effort to augment its park-and-ride system with regional facilities that can double as transfer hubs for local buses and possibly a larger bus rapid transit system to connect to downtown, the University of South Florida and the West Shore district. They plan to open a second station just west of I-75 and north of Fletcher Avenue.

Dean Salls, 52, a software specialist for the county, said he looks forward to the new station, even though it would mean driving an extra mile from his home in Riverview.

"It would provide a secure, dedicated facility. I would go to that," he said.

Salls catches the 27LX on the east side of the Westfield Brandon mall, about 2 miles from his house. There's no lighting, only one bench and limited parking.

Also, some businesses resent giving up parking to commuters and place notes on windshields asking the commuters to park elsewhere. It's a constant juggle between finding a safe spot and one that businesses will allow, Salls said.

Worst of all, some commuters on other routes have relayed tales about parking at what they thought were safe spots, but returning to find their vehicles damaged. Those cases are rare, he said.

"I heard someone had taken the catalytic converter completely off a truck. The guy came back in the afternoon and started up his truck, and it was like World War III, the rumbling," Salls said.

HART says it expects ridership to increase after the station opens. The agency plans to lure customers who avoided the bus because they worried about leaving their cars at shopping centers or on the street.

Security cameras would monitor parking at the Falkenburg station, and periodically, HART supervisors would drive there to check the site, Weakland said.

Also, the station's proximity to the expressway and downtown could entice commuters looking to save time and trim costs on tolls, gas and parking.

David Hey, 41, a principal planner for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, said he stopped riding the express bus from Riverview a few months ago after his two children started day care.

The convenience and cost savings might entice him back, though. Adding a local bus from downtown to Falkenburg during hours the express buses don't operate could seal the deal.

"If something happens during the day, I'd like to know I can easily get to where my car is at," he said.

The Falkenburg park-and-ride is budgeted at $2.25 million and the Fletcher station at $1.75 million. Three years ago, Hillsborough commissioners approved giving HART $40 million to pay for the stations and other transit projects.

Rich Shopes can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

HART has plans to beef up transit hub on Falkenburg Road 12/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 3:30am]

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