Monday, August 20, 2018
Transportation

Long-awaited Tampa Bay transit study identifies five corridors for future transportation systems

The firm assembling a highly anticipated study has identified five potential routes for a future transit system in Tampa Bay.

This is the first big update in the regional premium transit feasibility plan, a cumbersome term for a process that will identify whether rail, express bus or other types of transit will best serve the region.

A team from Jacobs Engineering expects to narrow that list and recommend three specific projects — including the exact routes and the type of transit that will operate on them — by November, said Jacobs executive Scott Pringle.

Politicians and transit advocates alike have placed a lot of weight on this 2½-year study, which the Florida Department of Transportation paid $1.5 million for and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is overseeing. They hope it can provide some sort of blueprint for one day solving the bay area's transportation woes.

"I am depending on this study a lot to be a real, unbiased analysis of what this region needs to solve its transportation challenges," said Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen. "My hope is that they're evaluating every conceivable option."

Politicians, business leaders and residents have discussed building transit options for decades, but have failed to garner enough support or political will to fund or build most of them.

The five corridors Jacobs selected are a mix of routes between Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, connecting the area's densest regions and busiest road corridors:

• West Shore to Brandon through downtown Tampa

• Downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida

• Wesley Chapel to USF, then to Tampa and St. Petersburg

• Clearwater to the St. Petersburg Gateway area to downtown

• South Tampa to downtown Tampa.

The potential routes were evaluated based on how many popular destinations and activity centers they served, along with the number of jobs, amenities and population per mile. The next step is to evaluate what type of transit would operate best in each area. Those modes could include a streetcar, express bus, light rail or other options.

All these routes have already been evaluated by several of the nearly 60 different transportation studies that have been conducted over the past three decades in Tampa Bay. The goal of this study is to draw on those previous findings, identify the best projects, put together an actual plan and draft state and federal grant applications to help fund them.

"We're not trying to do just another study," Pringle said. "We're trying to pull together a plan from all those studies. … Let's build on those lessons learned and move this thing forward."

The initiative, though originally called the premium transit study when the DOT first announced it in late 2015, has since been rebranded as a feasibility plan to highlight the fact that it will produce an actual proposal for local leaders to act on.

Jacobs will ultimately identify three specific projects to build in Tampa Bay, Pringle said, and rank them in the order they should be built. Once the projects are selected, the next phases of the study will decide how to pay for them and who will maintain and operate them.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Sandy Murman was disappointed that none of the corridors connect to South Hillsborough, the district she represents. She also complained that the firm was using out-of-date population numbers. She encouraged them to look at parts of the region, such as her district, that are experiencing more growth.

"There's a balancing act between the suburban area versus the urban area," Murman said. "I didn't see a lot out in the unincorporated areas."

Her concerns highlight one of the biggest obstacles facing transit in Tampa Bay: how to build support for a project that may not serve everybody. Ultimately, the plan is to build an expansive, integrated system with main corridors connected to other parts of the region by buses, circulators and other transit options. But creating an entire network takes time and money, and it can't all be built at once.

"To develop a transit system for a very sprawled-out community like we have is going to be very, very difficult," Murman said. "We have to work with HART to build connections to those main routes and make sure the taxpayers know we're not just going to do one area."

Murman, however, voted against the most recent attempt to raise money for transit. The Hillsborough County Commission decided in April 2016 not to put a 30-year, half-cent sales tax referendum to fund transportation on the November ballot.

Hillsborough has since found more than $800 million in the county budget to spend on road projects. But by its own estimates, the county has more than $8 billion worth of transportation needs in the coming decade.

Previous attempts to pass a sales tax for transportation failed in Hillsborough in 2010 and in Pinellas in 2014, largely because of a lack of support from voters outside the downtown areas. Many suburban residents see transit as something that benefits only the urban cores, and thus don't want to pay for something they won't use.

Trying to plan a regional system further complicates this. There is no regional transit agency that would oversee such a project. A contentious bill in the Florida Legislature seeks to create such an agency. However, recent amendments frustrated Senate sponsor Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and could complicate the bill's chance of passing. The Senate version is on the Senate Appropriations Committee's agenda Tuesday and the House version is on the calendar for floor discussion and debate that same day.*

There's also the issue of regional competition: If a corridor based largely in one county is chosen as the first project, leaders and citizens in other counties might feel slighted or wonder why they should support it.

"That's a very, very, very hard thing for elected officials to do," Cohen said. "But so far, I do think people understand that there are going to have to be concessions all over the place for a truly regional approach to work."

*A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized the status of the regional transit agency bill in the Florida Legislature. This story has been corrected.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

Comments
Florida drivers are still some of the worst in the nation

Florida drivers are still some of the worst in the nation

Florida again is one of the states with the worst drivers in nation, according to a study conducted by SmartAsset.The good news? At least we arenít in first place anymore.RELATED: Florida is the worst state in the nation in every way, rankings sayFlo...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Have you made up your mind on a transportation sales tax? Many candidates haven’t

Have you made up your mind on a transportation sales tax? Many candidates haven’t

TAMPA — Some 77,000 people signed a petition to place a sales-tax hike for transportation on the Nov. 6 ballot, but many of the 17 people seeking seats on the Hillsborough County Commission say they’re still making up their minds. Some c...
Published: 08/20/18
Transportation activists hope to pave over past referendum defeats

Transportation activists hope to pave over past referendum defeats

TAMPA ó The group behind a sales tax transportation initiative used hundreds of volunteers and spent at least $550,000 on a petition-gathering firm in a frantic six-week dash to qualify for the Nov. 6 General Election ballot.That may have been the ea...
Published: 08/11/18
Troubled SunPass vendor could have to pay $1.7 million, but Florida isnít asking for it

Troubled SunPass vendor could have to pay $1.7 million, but Florida isnít asking for it

The vendor responsible for recent problems with the SunPass tolling system could be on the hook to pay the state at least $1.7 million based on a review of documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.But the Florida Department of Transportation hasnít ...
Published: 08/08/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Petition succeeds, Hillsborough voters set to decide on sales tax hike for transportation

Petition succeeds, Hillsborough voters set to decide on sales tax hike for transportation

TAMPA ó As if there wasnít enough riding on the mid-term elections, a plan to raise the sales tax to pay for transportation projects is now set to go before Hillsborough voters.The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections confirmed Wednesday that ...
Published: 08/08/18

Flooding closes WPA Road in Brooksville; Rackley, other roads still closed

BROOKSVILLE ó Flooding on Wednesday led the Hernando County Department of Public Works to close WPA Road just south of its intersection with Mondon Hill Road.More than a foot of water is covering part of the road, east of downtown Brooksville, accord...
Published: 08/08/18
Ferry project waves goodbye to $4.7 million federal grant

Ferry project waves goodbye to $4.7 million federal grant

TAMPA — If the long-awaited commuter ferry service between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base ever happens, it will likely be without federal money. Leaders of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority acknowledged Mon...
Published: 08/06/18
Updated: 08/07/18
High-speed rail firm scouting land for station and development around proposed Rays ballpark site

High-speed rail firm scouting land for station and development around proposed Rays ballpark site

TAMPA ó Brightline, the firm behind the passenger rail system between Miami and West Palm Beach, doesnít yet know if it will win a state bid to build a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando.But the company is already scouting sites for a ter...
Updated one month ago
Southbound I-275 ramp to northbound 75 in Manatee County to close for 10 months

Southbound I-275 ramp to northbound 75 in Manatee County to close for 10 months

People who travel from Pinellas County to southern Hillsborough using the interstates may want to build in some extra time.The Florida Department of Transportation has shut down the ramp that shuttles motorists from southbound Interstate 275 in Manat...
Updated one month ago
Waterborne transportation a fact of life in other cities; why not Tampa Bay?

Waterborne transportation a fact of life in other cities; why not Tampa Bay?

Mark Hubbard, the owner of Hubbard’s Marina on John’s Pass, has watched two decades of uncertainty over the future of waterborne transportation play out in Tampa Bay. Just when it seems that Tampa and St. Petersburg have figured out how ...
Updated one month ago