If you got caught in the Interstate 275 traffic congestion over the weekend, it might be an appropriate time to pipe up about devising long-term transportation alternatives.
Regional transit planners want to hear from local residents about the 25-year, $25 billion mass transit plan connecting Citrus to Sarasota counties. Plans include express bus routes running along the Suncoast Parkway to the West Shore area of Tampa, managed traffic lanes along Interstate 75, short-distance rail connecting the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel to Tampa and eventually commuter rail service along the CSX lines between Brooksville and points south.
Key components also include tripling existing bus services in each county. That is imperative in Hernando County where commissioners are considering cutting transit service as a cost-cutting maneuver. Commissioners must resist that suggestion.
The harder questions of long-term financing will come in the future. The Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, TBARTA, projects federal money to account for 80 percent of the expense. The local cost is estimated to equate to $125 annually for each household in the seven-county region. In Pasco, it could mean asking voters to extend the Penny for Pasco sales tax beyond its 2015 expiration. Hernando, too, will be asked to participate, though the funding source likely won't need to be pinpointed until 2017.
To receive public advice, TBARTA is calling 40,000 residents randomly each night and inviting them to participate in telephone town hall meetings. Interested people also can participate by calling toll-free 1-877-269-7289 and entering the personal identification number of 14837. The sessions are scheduled for tonight through Thursday; again next week May 4-6 and then May 13. Each meeting begins at 7 p.m.
The meetings take on a greater local flavor this week with Pasco Commissioner Ann Hildebrand being the host on Tuesday and Hernando Commissioner David Russell doing likewise on Wednesday. Both are TBARTA board members. Let them know what you think.
It beats the unsatisfying alternative of stewing silently in traffic wondering when somebody will tackle road congestion.