Monday, April 23, 2018
Opinion

Column: Let's move to next step on regional planning

Just nine months ago, our community initiated steps to speak with one voice about solving our transportation challenges. In October 2016, after several years of discussions with transportation leaders, elected officials, frustrated residents and transit customers, a proposal was made to state legislators that we consolidate the myriad of bus agencies, planning agencies and regional councils into one centralized organization. We did our homework. We built the framework for success, and our state leaders responded favorably to the proposal.

In May, the Florida Legislature passed legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott that centralizes public transportation services for our region under the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. Now it is time for state legislators to work together again to take the next step.

TBARTA has existed for years, but it has been lost in the alphabet soup of public agencies searching for a mission. With the new state law, TBARTA now has an important purpose and will serve as the answer to our need for a centralized system. New TBARTA board members are being appointed, action plans are being developed to guide TBARTA's new mission and consolidated service delivery discussions are under way. Taxpayers and transit customers alike will be better served as a result of this victory for our community.

Yet we've only moved the ball to midfield. As proud as we are of our success to broaden TBARTA's powers to help us to realize our vision of improved and borderless public transportation service, we must redouble our efforts to deliver the same on the planning side.

Entrenched bureaucracies continue to stymie our efforts to build truly regional plans that can be implemented. Tampa Bay residents don't plan their daily travel with thoughts of crossing municipal boundaries, and our precious transportation dollars can't be limited in that way, either. Multiple Metropolitan Planning Organizations, other transportation agencies and the like create confusion, complexity and duplication that are unnecessary and spend our limited resources on process rather than improving people's lives.

We have succeeded on the transit delivery side, and TBARTA is poised to execute. In less than nine months, the vision for TBARTA as one central voice to create and implement regional transit became a reality with the support of multiple city leaders, county leaders and state legislators on both sides of the aisle. In the coming nine months, let's lead the charge to replicate that success on the transportation planning front.

We need one agency to lead planning for our entire region and one agency to lead service delivery. Our community will greatly benefit from this kind of clear accountability — one collaborative regional voice with centralized responsibility that replaces duplication. We can do it. Let's get it done.

Janet Long is chair of the Pinellas County Commission.

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