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Tampa Bay area officials urged to plan now for mass transit projects

TAMPA — Now is the time for the Tampa Bay area to come forward with mass transit plans, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, told Hillsborough County leaders Tuesday.

Mica, Republican leader of the House Transportation Committee, said that with Congress set to complete an update of its five-year transportation funding bill next fall and President-elect Obama pledging to invest in infrastructure to stimulate the economy, the region can't waste time getting together its funding requests for rail and other mass transit projects.

"I'm a right-wing conservative fiscal Republican," he said. "But I am adamant about public transportation, public transit. If you look at the issues that we face, the economy, nothing creates jobs like infrastructure projects."

Rail and other public works projects are expensive, he said.

But he thinks the Obama administration may be open-minded about providing government guarantees for private investment in those projects.

"The Bush administration has been very myopic about financing," Mica said.

The bay area is one of only three of the country's 27 largest metropolitan areas without light rail, Mica said. Meanwhile, other cities are spending billions of dollars to expand their systems.

"It's almost embarrassing to have parts of Florida without modern transportation systems," he said. "What I need is everybody on the same page, everybody coming forward with their proposals."

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority hopes to have its seven-county transportation plan complete early next year.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who attended Mica's briefing, would like the first leg of the region's rail system to run from the University of South Florida to downtown Tampa. She is pushing to get a referendum on a 1-cent sales tax to pay for it on the 2010 ballot.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa Bay area officials urged to plan now for mass transit projects 11/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 27, 2008 1:01pm]
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