TAMPA — As gas prices approach $4 a gallon, officials planning a regional mass transit network heard from a pollster Friday that locals are increasingly receptive to the idea of better transit, including rail.
They also heard from a nationally recognized planning consultant who said an aging and growing population will be seeking better commuting options.
Members of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority plan a three-day tour of Dallas, Denver and Charlotte, cities that grew up with the automobile but have added light rail.
TBARTA must come up with a regional mass transit plan by December and then persuade the public to pay for it. So it commissioned a seven-county poll of 3,500 people in the bay area.
Pollster David Kenney presented key findings about the public's mood:
• 87 percent said traffic congestion is a serious problem.
• 68 percent want commuter rail here; 75 percent support more regional bus service; 66 percent want to expand highways.
• 20 percent said high taxes are the No. 1 local issue. But 68 percent believe improving transportation is a "good use" of taxpayer dollars.
TBARTA's board is comprised of big-city mayors, county commissioners and governor appointees. Members are working with state officials on a mass transit plan that probably will call for light rail in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. So far, it's held nearly 90 community meetings to hear public opinion and will hold more in July and August.
Planning consultant John Fregonese told TBARTA's board that demographic trends will feed the need for transit.
More people ages 55 and older and 15 to 34 won't be looking for two-bedroom, single-family homes. Instead, he said, they'll want condos or apartments and access to mass transit.