TAMPA — For Fran Costantino, the potential locations of light rail stops will make all the difference in how she votes on a 1 cent sales tax to pay for transit improvements.
Preliminary documents show a potential stop at 15th Street and Sixth Avenue, right at the edge of Ybor City, as the tracks make their way from downtown to 30th Street and then north toward the University of South Florida.
"I'm willing to vote for it. I'm willing to spend the money, if it does something for our historic landmark district," said Costantino, a real estate broker and president of an Ybor civic association. "At 15th and Sixth, you can walk everywhere. You can walk to the theater. You can walk to restaurants, to have a cigar or a glass of wine."
Whether there will be a stop there, though, is still unknown because details of the plan are still being worked out.
Voters on Nov. 2 will consider a tax to help pay for a rail line that would stretch from Tampa International Airport to downtown, the University of South Florida and Cross Creek Boulevard near New Tampa.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is hosting a public hearing at 4:30 p.m. today at County Center to discuss routes, which will lay the groundwork for final station locations.
A key question is whether the trains should run on city streets or along Interstate 275.
"Each alignment has its benefits," said David Armijo, executive director of HART.
Between downtown and the airport, using the interstate costs about $200 million more than the alternative, which directs tracks down Cypress Street.
Heading north, using existing CSX tracks through Ybor City and East Tampa reaches more riders than the interstate route, but travel times would be longer.
It's also much more expensive, adding at least $30 million to the price, according to early estimates.
"That's a big factor," said Tom Scott, the City Council member who represents East Tampa.
Still, he prefers the street route to the interstate. Working documents show a potential stop at 30th Street and Lake Avenue, and Scott said he's intrigued by the economic development that a light rail stop could attract.
"People will be waiting for the train," he said. "There will be an opportunity for them to go into the businesses there. A lot of them are owned by African-Americans. And it will provide opportunities for redevelopment."
Randy Baron, a neighborhood activist in Seminole Heights, prefers the Intestate 275 approach, which shows stops in the heart of his neighborhood on Osborne Avenue near Hillsborough High School, and Hanna Avenue.
"All the things we've done to revitalize that commercial district would be served by that rail line," he said. "That would really make Seminole Heights kind of a central commercial location."
West Tampa boosters say they prefer a line connecting downtown to the airport via city streets rather than the interstate.
Ben Buckley is vice president of the North Hyde Park Civic Association, a neighborhood that includes Cypress Street. The area is being considered for a rail line with stations at Rome and Himes avenues.
"Rail isn't just shuffling people around. It has to do with the social interaction in the communities and our growth patterns," he said.
Stations on the interstate won't prompt construction of restaurants, coffee shops and other gathering spots, he said.
Armijo, though, said economic development can occur around stations whether they are on the interstate or streets.
"Transit-oriented development doesn't have to be within a few feet of a train," he said. "It could be within a quarter-mile of a train, as long as it's walkable."
Mayor Pam Iorio, who has been one of the strongest advocates of light rail, said she prefers the street routes, particularly heading north to USF.
But she added that she's leaving it to the people immersed in the numbers to decide.
"They have to look at ridership, cost, convenience for the traveler, how long it's going to take from point A to point B, how many stops," she said. "There are all these other factors, including working out an agreement with CSX. These should not be political decisions."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.