But that’s all about to change!
“Many of you have been on this path, this road, this rail line really,” said Clearwater City Mayor and TBARTA Vice Chair Frank Hibbard at the May 28th Presentation of TBARTA’s Regional Transportation Master Plan to the State of Florida at Tampa International Jet Center.
Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) is a board consisting of commissioners, councilmen, mayors and even professional football players, from seven bay area counties (Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota). And they are all working together to implement an efficient light rail system spanning from Citrus to Sarasota County by 2035.
“Tampa Bay is one of the 20 largest metropolitan areas without a rail plan,” said TBARTA Chairman Shelton Quarles. Quarles, a former linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and current pro scout in their personnel department, now sits as Chairman of the Board for TBARTA by gubernatorial appointment.
At that meeting, TBARTA voted to adopt their Regional Transportation Master Plan.
Before taking the vote, however, TBARTA gauged feedback acquired from, what they call, "iTown Hall meetings", nine live telephone meetings regarding mass transit where residents from the seven-county region, where the light rail system will be built, are randomly selected to participate.
“I really think this is the future for public hearings,” said Tampa City Mayor Pam Iorio at the May 22nd meeting. Mayor Iorio, who also serves on the TBARTA board, said, “I am in full support of the master plan.”
And this appears to be the general consensus!
According to TBARTA Executive Director Bob Clifford, overall, out of those who participated in the iTown Hall meetings, bay area residents support TBARTA’s Regional Transportation Master Plan. However, there was some general opposition to the project, but only about “4%”. Reasons given for the opposing views vary from “no one will use it” to “the cost is prohibitive”.
At the May 28th presentation, however, regardless of what 4% thinks about prohibitive costs, Mayor Hibbard declared in his opening speech, “The cost of not going forward is far greater.”
According to TBARTA, there will be “an additional 1.8 million new residents in our area by 2035.” And, “traffic congestion in 2035 is expected to more than double and to triple by 2050.”
TBARTA’s Regional Master Plan includes a “linked transportation network, using a variety of modes (highways, rail, bus, ferry) where they are most effective.” They say “Improving the level of transit service in our region as well as enhancing the capacity of existing roadways, are key to improving overall connectivity and mobility.” And “The Master Plan includes a Long-Term Regional Network for 2050 and a Mid-Term Regional for 2035. Both regional networks will be complemented by hundreds of miles of local or sub-regional transit services.”
By 2035 (Mid-Term), there will be 116 miles of short-distance rail running from Hillsborough County, through Pinellas County, and into Pasco County. The route will begin in Bradenton, making frequent (every 10-15 minutes) stops at Tampa International Airport (TPA), St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), Downtown St. Petersburg and Downtown Clearwater. It will run north to the top of the bay, and then east into Carrollwood/Temple Terrace. The route will conclude in Wesley Chapel.
The Master Plan also includes 12 miles of bus rapid transit in an exclusive lane, 42 miles of bus rapid transit in mixed traffic, 159 miles of managed lane with express bus and 226 miles of other express bus.
From Downtown St. Petersburg, travelers will be able to take an express bus (every 15-30 minutes), running through mixed traffic, to St. Pete Beach, and they will also be able to pick up an express bus from Downtown Clearwater to Clearwater Beach.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist was invited to the presentation of TBARTA’s Regional Transportation Master Plan, but he did not attend. “Prior commitments elsewhere have prevented me from being with you today,” Christ wrote in an open letter to the board, “but I want to reiterate my support for TBARTA’s important mission.”