HART’s MetroRapid East-West route won’t be rolling soon
TAMPA - HART’s new speedy bus service will be whisking riders by late spring on a 17-mile route from downtown Tampa to Telecom Park near Interstate 75, using traffic signal-changing technology to cut trip times by 10 to 15 percent. A more east-west route from Tampa International Airport to Temple Terrace, though, remains years away. Crucial issues like funding and specifics such as whether the route would service Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus remain unresolved. “I almost wish East-West MetroRapid were going into operation before North-South MetroRapid,” Hillsborough County and HART commissioner Sandy Murman said at a transit meeting last week. “I see so many benefits,” she said, referring to serving the airport, HCC, West Shore and St. Joseph’s Hospital. “We will have to work hard in getting the money.”Money is likely to be the deciding factor in when an east-west corridor will hook up with the north-south MetroRapid routes that are scheduled to begin full service June 10. HART staff and consultants are working on a development and partial design study for an east-west route. Capital costs for the route are estimated at $22 million. But unlike the north-south route, which is being built and equipped with $25 million in Hillsborough County transportation grants, no funding appears readily or easily available for MetroRapid East-West. Planners and lobbyists are checking into potential state and federal funding sources, a more difficult and time-consuming process than when Hillsborough County financially backed the north-south plan.But once the money is obtained, the east-west route could be running in two years, HART chief executive Philip Hale said. The 16.4-mile route will be covered in about 55 minutes. With 12 new buses, schedules could be run every 15 minutes. A 2008 report indicated MetroRapid East-West could generate 1,500 riders in 2010. Updated forecasts indicated 2,800 riders on a typical weekday. Discussions about the east-west routes and details have included representatives of the Westshore Alliance, the Tampa Sports Authority and HCC’s Dale Mabry campus. Talks are ongoing and could result in changes, including whether a stop would be made at Hillsborough Community College. Robert Chunn, president of HCC’s Dale Mabry campus, said many faculty and staff and thousands of registered students live adjacent to the routes of the proposed north-south and east-west corridors. “We would hope to encourage them to leave their vehicles behind and choose the MetroRapid bus line, with a stop at the Dale Mabry campus,” Chunn said. Chunn pointed out the initial proposed east-west route included a stop at the Dale Mabry campus. That was eliminated in a later version, though. “We would like to see it restored,” Chunn said. Restoring the HCC stop remains under evaluation in the current HART study. Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance, also has been involved in MetroRapid discussions. A consultant’s study for HART indicated a loop through West Shore would add no significant ridership but add significant travel time. Nonetheless, Rotella is in favor of a stop at the HCC campus on Dale Mabry. “When you drive by the college, you always see thousands of cars parked there,” he said. “What if some of those people had an alternative to the hassles of driving and finding parking?” Plans involving Tampa International, where 7,000 are employed, also must be refined. The airport is working through its master plan update and the location of where a MetroRapid stop might be located has yet to be determined, officials said. MetroRapid will reduce travel time by relying on fewer stops and using technology to extend green lights and shorten red lights. Other time-saving features are “queue jump lanes” reserved for buses near intersections to allow them to get ahead of other vehicles, and quicker boarding and ticketing features. The new, $500,000 buses are similar to HART’s 40-foot buses but will have a distinctive green paint scheme as part of the “MetroRapid” branding.