Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Get Tampa Bay's transit legislation moving

With just three weeks left in the Florida Legislature's annual session, Tampa Bay's top priority is stalled. The region's most promising effort to create a robust regional transportation agency that would oversee the creation of a modern transit system is mired in committees and maneuvering among area legislators. It's time to get this initiative moving, and it's up to the region's lawmakers and business leaders to ensure this is not another opportunity wasted.

The bill filed by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to transform the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority into something more than a glorified van service has been idling for weeks. It would reduce the agency's footprint, overhaul the composition of TBARTA's board and provide clear direction to "plan, implement and operate'' transit options throughout the region. Without a vigorous regional transit agency, Tampa Bay will remain stuck in traffic forever.

There is an opportunity to get the legislation, SB 1672, back on track next week. Senate Community Affairs Chairman Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, has agreed to schedule the bill for a hearing in his committee Monday. Lee recognizes the importance of this regional transit effort, although he is not a particular fan of light rail. Another member of his committee, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is an opponent of light rail and a promoter of rideshare, driverless cars and other alternatives. But these familiar fault lines over transit should not be allowed to derail this legislation.

At this point, creating a viable regional transit agency is more important than debating which mode of transportation can best ease Tampa Bay's traffic nightmare. It could be a regional rapid bus system. It could be light rail. It could be express toll lanes on the interstate. It could be using the CSX rail line that loops through Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Most likely, the answer is some combination of these possibilities and probably others. A comprehensive analysis of the options won't be completed until next year, and that should help steer the discussion.

Regardless of the technology, there has to be a robust regional agency to build consensus, conceive and create a regional transit system for the 21st century. This legislation is the best attempt so far to achieve that goal. TBARTA's name would be adjusted to replace "transportation" with "transit.'' More importantly, its footprint would shrink from covering seven counties to a more manageable four: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee. Others could be added later. The bill also has been fine-tuned to add the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg to a 13-member board that also would include county commissioners from each county and business leaders from throughout the region. And TBARTA would be directly charged with creating a regional transit development plan.

Tampa Bay cannot wait any longer for that plan. Having each county go it alone with its own transit plans and voter referendums hasn't worked, and the state and federal governments want the region to speak with one voice. This legislation would ensure that TBARTA becomes that voice, and the Tampa Bay Partnership composed of prominent business leaders agrees this is the right approach.

The legislative session is entering the home stretch, and Lee's committee should get this bill moving again Monday. The focus now should be on creating a robust agency to craft and implement a regional transit plan rather than the details of the plan itself, and there is no time to waste.

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Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18