Although the Tampa Bay area is years from getting light rail, officials planning a better mass transit network made a few key decisions Friday.
For starters, the seven-county Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority began the process of hiring an executive director to spearhead the effort, now possible because of $2-million in state funding.
TBARTA also killed off the notion that it's preparing to build a big beltway through east Hillsborough County, and it dropped the idea of running ferries across the bay. These moves came as board members, most of whom are elected officials, approved an initial version of a regional transportation plan.
In a move that had been telegraphed for months, TBARTA's latest plan eliminated a potential route along a railroad line through rural south and east Hillsborough. Community activists had fiercely opposed the route, fearing it could also bring a bypass highway.
George Niemann of Dover compared the so-called Brandon Bypass to a cancer "that finally succumbed after being subjected to the chemotherapy of intense public scrutiny."
At this early stage, TBARTA's plan has identified a series of corridors — mostly highways and railroad lines — where officials think mass transit should be added to move people around the region. The mode of travel along each corridor could end up being electric-powered light rail, diesel-powered long-distance commuter trains, or express buses. That remains to be decided.
What TBARTA did Friday was narrow down the number of corridors to focus on. Officials want to link the downtowns of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa with job centers like Gateway, West Shore and the USF area as well as Tampa International Airport. They also want to reach into the surrounding counties.
TBARTA will hold more forums in late July and early August in every local county.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.