No problem threatens the economy and quality of life in the Tampa Bay-area like our clogged transportation system. That's why it was a shining achievement this tight budget year for area legislators to secure $2-million in the budget to finance a new, regional transportation initiative — one that looks to improve roads and mass transit along a seven-county corridor on the west Gulf coast. We hope Gov. Charlie Crist does right for his home area by signing the appropriation. It has enormous potential to make it easier and cheaper for millions of Floridians to live and work here.
Lawmakers approved $2-million for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, the group working to improve and integrate a multimodal transit system from Citrus south to Sarasota counties. The goal is not only to relieve congestion, but to spend taxpayer dollars more efficiently by having the counties work together in a seamless way for moving people around the region.
The authority has until July 2009 to craft a plan for Pinellas, Hillsborough and the other counties. Its members, which include area mayors and county commissioners, are working hard to make the plan doable and affordable. The appropriation would help the agency complete its work. More important, it would send a message to the authority and to the Legislature that Crist takes the effort seriously. Conversely, a veto would send the opposite message: that the Legislature should move on and worry about other parts of Florida, and that bay area leaders should continue hacking away at transportation in their own, piecemeal way, which we know does not work.
Crist made a mistake by failing to see the big picture last year when he vetoed a smaller start-up subsidy. But he deserves credit for getting the agency off the ground and has an interest in not undermining the leadership of Shelton Quarles, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer he appointed, to some grumbling, as agency chairman. Not getting the money a second year in a row would seriously diminish TBARTA's political standing and set back regional planning and area mass transit for years, if not decades — this at a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline and record bus and rail ridership. Let's face it: If we don't have the leadership to fund the plan, how will we ever fund the network?