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Ruth: The time for mass transit was yesterday

Well, here we go again. Or perhaps not.

Ever since Hernando de Soto first entered Tampa Bay around 1539, and discovered Dick Greco making goo-goo eyes at American Indian maidens, there has been endless chitchat, chin-rubbing and no shortage of thumb-sucking over what to do about the region's mass transit needs.

And we still haven't figured it out. But we're still jabbering away, and away, and . . .

Why just the other day a blue-ribbon group called the Transportation Policy Leadership Group got together for another round of navel gazing on the future of getting from A to B without having to stare at a sea of rear end red lights for a couple of hours.

The Transportation Policy Leadership Group is indeed an assemblage of the area's most notable hotsy-tots, including the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, county commissioners and regional transportation gurus.

That's pretty impressive, until you remind yourself that ever since Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders were wenching their way through Tampa, the city has had no shortage of leadership groups, select committees, study halls, conventions, conferences, panels, commissioners, convocations and councils ruminating over stuff like mass transit.

And all anyone has to show for all the flap-jawing are warehouses full of little scale models of choo-choos, rubber trees and plastic figures of people to show what a mass transit system will look like once it finally becomes a reality in about, oh, 2753.

Or perhaps, just perhaps — a bit sooner.

Over the years, the argument for creating a light-rail transit system has largely come from what might broadly be described as the tree-hugger community, or academics, or people from other cities that had rail, or the likes of former county Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

So most of these folks could be readily dismissed as naive idealists advocating a rail system that would cost bazillions to build, be underutilized and never recoup the investment.

But now some new voices have joined the rail discussion — the business community, people like Greg Celestan, chief executive officer of the 150-employee firm Celestar, who is also chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Richard Danielson reported recently, Celestan noted that in recruiting young talent to come to work for his company, the quality of transit plays a vital role.

Other executives are beginning to voice the same concerns, especially as the Tampa Bay area grows. Sitting in the daily mosh pit of automobiles on I-275 or the Veterans and Lee Roy Selmon expressways is not an option. It might even be a deal breaker.

Maybe this is what it takes for the powers that be in Tampa Bay to remove their collective heads from the sand, or perhaps someplace else, and begin the effort to at last make light rail a reality. And they will do so for the finest of mercenary reasons: It makes economic sense in attracting investment.

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who has been around long enough to know the truth of what he speaks, fretted that yet again the born again realization of the efficacy of mass transit may yet die on the vine.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn echoed Sharpe's anxiety. "If we don't do it now, shame on us." Ah there's the rub. Shame has never been all that much of an inhibiting factor when it comes to shying away from progress in these parts.

Ruth: The time for mass transit was yesterday 07/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 11:55am]

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