Friday, October 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Tampa Bay needs one MPO to set regional transit priorities

Now that government and business leaders throughout Tampa Bay are talking about consolidating the decisionmaking process for regional transportation planning, it's little surprise that some voices would still try to protect their parochial interests rather than embrace the big picture. Consolidating the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the bay area into a single voice that serves the entire region makes sense. This is not reinventing the wheel, and there are ways to ensure that local transportation priorities are not lost in a new structure that would amplify the region's voice.

MPOs are public boards that oversee transportation planning at the local level. They also serve as conduits for financing major transportation projects with the state and federal governments. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties each have their own MPO — which is two too many — and area officials met last month to consider merging all three into a single agency. This effort is long overdue, and it's another key step in putting the pieces in place to create a modern regional transit system.

Yet Beth Alden, the executive director of Hillsborough's MPO, says a merger could cause more problems than it would solve. She contends it could create funding disputes, lead to a reduction in professional planning staffs and ultimately reduce public input on transportation policy at the local level. Some critics also complain that a regional MPO would crowd out the priorities of individual counties, leaving local transit projects at the mercy of a board more focused on moving traffic across county lines.

MPO WARS: Pros and cons of a regional voice

Some of these concerns may be legitimate. But there are ways to design a regional MPO that can walk and chew gum at the same time. The individual MPOs already consider county-centric transportation planning with an eye toward the impact on the larger region; that's the reality of living in a growing area of 3 million residents with thousands of commuters who cross county lines every day. But the current system breaks down at the point of integrating local and regional projects. Having three MPOs also dilutes the region's voice in competing for outside dollars and allows officials in every county to blame the others for not contributing to regional solutions. Rather than become a distraction, a regional MPO would be the common voice for addressing the region's mobility problems, from the first mile to the last. It also would be the unified voice Tampa Bay needs to build consensus and seek the financing for regional transit projects that are critical to the economic futures of every county.

Tampa Bay has risen to the regional challenge before. Thirty years ago, the area was at war with itself over water, with counties battling over scarce resources and blaming each other for groundwater withdrawals that were damaging lakes, rivers and property. Those wars led to the creation of Tampa Bay Water, a regional utility serving Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Though the agency has had its setbacks, Tampa Bay Water has become a fine example for regional cooperation. By focusing on conservation, it also has helped the region to grow responsibly. It's time to apply that same forward-looking approach to the region's transportation problems.

The director of Pinellas' MPO, Whit Blanton, said several of Alden's concerns are valid. But he says those issues can be addressed and that "a regional MPO is probably what we need here." Major metros across the country have recognized the value in this approach, and state and federal officials have complained for years that it is difficult to help Tampa Bay solve its regional transportation issues when there are so many voices with different opinions and different priorities. It's time to create a strong, regional transportation voice for Tampa Bay.

Comments
Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Sharing memories of the “wish book,” shopping on Saturday nights and many memorable purchases
Updated: 2 hours ago

Editorial: FBI should take a hard look at CareerSource

The scrutiny now extends to the state agency that oversees the local jobs centers
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Experts are right that Hurricane Michael should force a review of Florida’s building standards. While newer homes generally fared better than older ones, the state needs to reassess the risks posed by high winds and storm surge.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

You wouldn't skip a trip to the gas pump, would you?Then don't miss the chance to cast your general election ballot, either, when Hillsborough County opens its many early voting sites Monday morning for a two-week engagement.If you do your homework a...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Editorial: Glazer Children’s Museum quickly regained its step

Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum.
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Editorial: Housecleaning was necessary at Clearwater parks department

The theft of money and a hostile atmosphere show a city department out of control
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Updated: 7 hours ago