Another effort to study the merger of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties’ transportation agencies is afoot.
Friday morning, state lawmakers Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, and Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Plant City, filed bills in the Florida Legislature that would require the Florida Department of Transportation, or its consultant, to study whether combining the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority would boost efficiency, reduce administrative costs and enhance “regional transit service and connectivity in the Tampa Bay Area.”
If the bills are approved, the department or consultant would have to report their findings to the governor and state Legislature by Jan. 1.
McClure’s bill, HB 1397, also requires study of the advantages and disadvantages of potential dissolution of both agencies while Burgess’ bill, SB 1532, requires study of the dissolution of Hillsborough’s agency specifically.
The CEO of HART, Adelee Le Grand, is under investigation for alleged mismanagement. Results of the external probe, which has already cost the agency more than $28,000, are due to be presented Monday but Friday morning the Tampa Bay Times reported her lawyer has offered a settlement in exchange for keeping the findings secret.
If the proposal is approved by the agency board, Le Grand would remain as CEO until at least the end of May and collect 20 weeks of paid compensation in a lump-sum on her way out — more than $110,000.
“The pending investigation will cease immediately and no written report shall be prepared and no oral report shall be given,” according to emails and notes of the settlement obtained by the Times.
Burgess and McClure’s bills note the state’s rapid population growth and the “critical” role of coordinated, regional transportation planning in the “safe and efficient management, operation, and development of public transit systems.”
Neither Burgess nor McClure could be reached for comment Friday.
Efforts to combine the agencies are not new.
In 2012, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, supported legislation that forced the agencies to explore a merger and study methods of improving regional transit connectivity.
Both agencies came out against such a move.
More than a decade later, PSTA CEO Brad Miller told the Times on Friday that he remains “ready and willing to talk with anyone who wants to discuss improving regional transit services, whether that’s in Pinellas County, the Tampa Bay region or beyond.”
Whether he would support a formal merger is unclear. “My focus is on PSTA and ensuring we have a robust transit system that best serves our community,” he said.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
HART’s CEO, Le Grand, could not be reached for comment Friday.
A preliminary study in 2012 found that merging the two agencies could save about $2.4 million annually, the Times previously reported. But board members from both sides of the bay challenged those figures, saying higher salaries and new obligations could erase any savings from cutting duplicative positions.
Both agencies then voted to ask the Legislature to fund a second, more detailed consolidation study. But HART later rebelled and voted against that, fearing it would signal to Tallahassee that the agency is open to merging.
In a resolution accompanying the results of the 2012 study, HART voiced support for “continued collaboration” but did not mentioned consolidation. PSTA’s resolution, however, called for improving regional “connectivity” and approval for additional state funding for further consolidation studies.