Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: The half-full, half-empty Tampa Bay transit debate

There are encouraging signs that business and political leaders recognize the lack of a viable transit system is suffocating Tampa Bay and that the status quo is unacceptable.
Published Aug. 26, 2016

For frustrated drivers stuck in traffic throughout Tampa Bay, the gridlock over mass transit improvements seems never-ending. It's been six years since voters defeated a transit referendum in Hillsborough and two years since voters did the same in Pinellas — and a new plan to bring to voters has not emerged on either side of the bay. Yet there are encouraging signs that business and political leaders recognize the lack of a viable transit system is suffocating Tampa Bay and that the status quo is unacceptable.

A "State of Transit" summit recently hosted by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority drew a large crowd of politicians and business officials to downtown Tampa to raise awareness and discuss options. The conversation ranged from the worthy experiment with running ferries between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg to the obvious need for more robust rapid bus service to the role of Uber and other ridesharing services. To his credit, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik also continues reinforcing that light rail has to be part of the mix even as other summit speakers focused on other options.

In Pinellas, County Commissioner Janet Long and St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy are pursuing another needed conversation about how to speak with one regional voice on transportation. The federal government is expected to soon insist on one regional set of transportation priorities for funding like those provided by metro areas such as Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Long and Kennedy are exploring how to create a new regional authority for Tampa Bay that could embrace one broad transportation plan and set funding priorities so the signals to Washington and Tallahassee would be clear.

And in Tallahassee next spring, expect another push from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and others to let cities hold transit tax referendums rather than requiring those votes to be countywide. The 2010 Hillsborough referendum was supported by voters in Tampa, and the 2014 Pinellas referendum won its strongest support among St. Petersburg voters.

In the glass is half-full vision, there is a broader consensus developing in the public and private sectors that Tampa Bay cannot fulfill its potential or compete with other metro areas without a more robust transit system. These points appear to be clear:

• Tampa Bay has to speak with one voice and agree on one transit plan for the region, even if it takes rule changes from the federal government to force that to happen.

• The Florida Legislature will play an essential role in creating the framework and providing the money. The region should capitalize on the leadership of incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes; Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the incoming Senate Appropriations Committee chairman; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a rising star and likely future House speaker. Any significant change — from merging the Hillsborough and Pinellas bus systems to creating a new regional transit authority to allowing transit referendums by cities — would require action from the Legislature.

• It's going to take multiple approaches to meet this challenge, from better bus service to express highway lanes to light rail.

In the glass is half-empty category, these are the depressing realities:

• The outlines of how a regional transportation authority could be organized, from its geographic footprint to the composition of its board to its funding, remain fuzzy.

• Too many public officials still lag behind private business leaders in acknowledging the urgency of the issue and agreeing that mass transit including light rail, not more roads, is the long-range solution.

• The earliest another voter referendum could be held on a new transit plan may be 2020. That's how long it likely will take for any structural changes to transit oversight to be adopted, a premium transit study by the state and HART to be completed, and a new transit vision to be created and sold to voters.

For Tampa Bay commuters, the transit answer always seems up the road and around the corner, never out of mind but always out of sight.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects St. Petersburg and Tampa, is a leading symbol of regional unity.
    Organizations that rebrand themselves should have a regional mission that reflects the name.
  2. The White House says it has chosen President Donald Trump's golf resort in Miami as the site for next year's Group of Seven summit.  (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File) ALEX SANZ  |  AP
    Monday’s letters to the editor
  3. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has written a children's book called Sulwe, about a girl who "was born the color of midnight."[Photo (2014) by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP] File photo
    Most white people have never heard of skin lightening cream or the “paper bag test,” where your fiance can be no darker than a paper sack. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  4. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Sunday’s letters to the editor
  5. Kreshae Humphrey, 26, applies ointments to the skin of her 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Soto De Jesus, after bathing her in bottled water. The parents bathe all three of their girls with bottled water because they believe the children were sickened by the tap water at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. The family is suing the park's owner over the issue, but the owner and the state say there are no problems with the drinking water there. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The story of a Clearwater mobile home park and its water issues reflects a systemic breakdown.
  6. A long stretch of US 98 remains closed for repairs in Mexico Beach on Friday, September 27, 2019, almost one year after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the small coastal town. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Time is running out, so let’s get practical, says Craig Fugate
  7. FROM PRINT: Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    Sure, fix capitalism’s flaws, but a wealth tax is not the way. | Adam Goodman
  8. 
 CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  9. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  10. Catherine Rampell, Washington Post columnist.
    Allegations of political cowardice can seem rich coming from candidates unwilling to acknowledge the obvious truths about things such as higher taxes. | Catherine Rampell
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement