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Inadequate mass transit would truly cost Tampa Bay area

Rose Rocco and Lara Bradburn get it. Jim Adkins and Anna Liisa Covell do not. At least not yet.

The "it'' is the importance of mass transit to the regional economy. Think of it as a path to 2 million jobs in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

That's the way Bob Clifford thinks of it. Clifford is director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, known as TBARTA. This month, he'll do a little selling to Hernando commissioners Rocco and Adkins and to Brooksville Vice Mayor Bradburn when they meet as members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Actually, Rocco and Bradburn won't need the sales job, but we hope Adkins and others of similar mind listen closely.

Adkins has proposed to park Hernando's transit service, THE Bus, saying the county can't afford it. Covell, who sits on the newly created Budget and Finance Committee, echoed those sentiments five days ago. She, however, could not find support among the rest of the committee to forward such a recommendation to the full commission.

Smart thinking. Unfortunately, the committee could advance no recommendation beyond punting. That is not-so-smart thinking. Committee members should have considered the wisdom of Bradburn and Rocco, both advocates for THE Bus, who pointed to its imperative role in economic development and regional planning.

TBARTA's near-term plans — think 20 years — call for express bus routes connecting Hernando (and Citrus) counties to the West Shore area of Tampa. Eventually, projections call for commuter rail service along the CSX lines between Brooksville and destinations to the south.

But the key to the success of regional mass transit is a much more vigorous, vibrant local transit system, said Clifford, in order to get people from where they are to where they want to go.

Moving people from the train stations and bus depots to their jobs in the morning and to their homes in the evening will require tripling the local transportation network in the Tampa Bay region in terms of miles, hours of service and frequency of trips.

Buses. More of them, running earlier in the morning and later in the evening to more destinations.

"It's an absolute key and critical component to what we're doing," Clifford said Thursday to members of the MPO in Pasco County. He delivered the same briefing a day earlier to Pinellas County and is scheduled to address Hernando's MPO April 28.

Here is the message that should help sell skeptics/critics like Adkins who spends his time talking about ways to jump-start Hernando's construction industry while paring county government spending.

Mass transit, Clifford said, "is really all about economics, economic competitiveness, and economic development." And, "we're talking about jobs, access to jobs."

Not the kind that come with driving a nail with a hammer, but the kind of jobs that come with Fortune 500 companies. The kind of companies that might otherwise bypass a region that relies so heavily on traffic-choked roads as its primary method of transportation.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan statistical area, which includes Hernando County, is the nation's 20th largest region. Of the top 30 metropolitan areas, it is the only one without a rail transit system. And the region is the fourth highest in the country in terms of household expenses dedicated to transportation costs. That's what happens when the price of gasoline climbs and there are so few options besides getting in your car and driving.

Access to jobs, improved economic development and cutting individual household expenses. It is a prudent message that warrants an attentive audience in Hernando County.

Inadequate mass transit would truly cost Tampa Bay area 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 9:51am]

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