TAMPA — The regional transit board gave a unanimous thumbs down Monday to a plan that would focus most early transit expansion in downtown Tampa. That plan, board members said, could leave people in the rest of the Hillsborough County standing on a corner waiting for a bus that won’t be coming.
Rich Clarendon, senior transportation planner for the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, presented a plan to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board outlining a study that calls for possible light rail and expanded modern street car service that might use existing freight tracks to operate. It also looked at connections to the planned transit station on Interstate 275 in the West Shore area. The study was a joint project of the MPO and the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
Instead of giving that plan the nod, the HART board voted to ask Hillsborough for funding to hire a specialized planner that can look at all transit needs throughout the county.
Clarendon was asking for a HART recommendation to include the downtown study in the MPO’s long-range transportation plan.
It is imperative that county, state and federal officials all work together to plan transit’s future here, said County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the HART board. “How is this integrated into what the city and county are doing? We need to work on one plan. We can’t have every agency having its own little plan.”
County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who also sits on the transit board, said he didn’t readily see how this downtown plan would “connect with everything else.”
HART’S existing Transit Development Plan would double transit throughout Hillsborough County, said HART board member Karen Jaroch. This plan, she said, “would eat the entire apple of a 1-cent sales tax,” something that is being considered to fund expanded transit and roadway expansions in the county. The sales tax would require a referendum.
And, added board member Fran Davin, “everything is not centered around getting in and out of downtown. We need a lot more information. We can’t put all the money in tracks and leave the rest of the county stranded, with no service.”
The board will request at least $500,000 from the county for the transit study.