Just over a year ago, Hills- borough Area Regional Transit launched a major study to determine how best to serve the county's transportation needs. Today, we've made much progress. At Monday's meeting of HART's board of directors, we presented the board both cost and ridership information from the study. A lot of questions were answered during the presentation, but there is still much work to do, and many voices to be heard. Here's a look at where we are now and what's next.
The study, known as an Alternatives Analysis, started in July 2009 as an important first step toward securing federal dollars for a transit investment. The AA is an in-depth assessment of the proposed improvement area that considers which alternatives would best meet the transit needs of that area, whether it's a rapid transit system like rail, bus rapid transit, regular bus service or no improvement at all. It takes into account factors including travel patterns, cost and ridership estimates and construction issues, including right of way, bridge crossings, property impacts and public preference. The AA study includes two separate corridors, a west and northeast, and initially identified 30 possible rapid transit routes. Three review phases narrowed these 30 possible alignments to five.
In fact, it was public preference that added a significant piece to this puzzle. After input at more than 235 community meetings, the AA study now includes direct service to Tampa International Airport and extending service under I-75 as far north as Cross Creek via Bruce B. Downs Boulevard because our customers and residents requested service that would connect more neighborhoods to employment centers and destinations.
So what happens next?
In November, the HART board will choose the Locally Preferred Alternative, which is essentially the final routing and type of system (rail, bus rapid transit, regular bus improvements) that we will then take to the Federal Transit Administration for our capital funding request. The board's choice will be based on the final stage of the AA, which is under way.
As part of that final stage, we are developing recommendations to address two central questions:
• Which of the remaining five alternatives — two in the west corridor and three in the northeast corridor — best meets needs and opportunities in each corridor?
• What is the most effective technology to implement the Locally Preferred Alternative, or LPA, in each corridor?
To select the LPA, each of the five remaining alternatives is being reviewed against a comprehensive set of measures including ridership, benefits, cost efficiency, land use and environmental impacts.
The five alignments under review include three in the northeast, with two using the CSX freight rail line, and one that runs along I-275. Both would serve communities in New Tampa, the USF area and medical facilities, and downtown. The two west corridor alignments being considered are Cypress Street and I-275 between the airport and downtown.
Over the next two months, we will complete the modeling work and determine an updated cost estimate for each travel technology and alignment. The HART board will then choose among light rail transit, bus rapid transit and enhanced bus service based on factors such as ridership, cost and redevelopment opportunities. We will present public comments along with our study findings to the HART board, which is scheduled to consider the Locally Preferred Alternative on Nov. 15.
It is HART's goal to complete this process in as timely and transparent a manner as possible so taxpayers can make an informed decision. But when considering such a large investment, it's important that everyone who wants to voice their opinion has a chance to do so. That's why we've included one more round of public outreach before making these decisions. It's the right thing to do.
What has not changed throughout the process is the commitment of HART to dramatically improve the quality and quantity of public transportation for Hillsborough County residents and visitors as resources become available. In these unprecedented times of uncertainty, it is prudent to be careful and deliberative as we contemplate changes that will help shape our future for decades.
Detailed information about the Alternative Analysis is on our project website, www.gohartaa.org, or join us at one of the final two public hearings on Sept. 25 and 30, or several upcoming community workshops.
David Armijo is chief executive officer of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit.