With the Tampa region one of only two top 25 metro areas without rails in the ground or on the drawing board, local leaders want to kick start the planning process. But is the region ready for light rail when only 1 percent of locals ride the bus?
" Launching a rail system is one of Mayor Pam Iorio's top second term priorities. At least two Republican Hillsborough County commissioners are touting the need for it. The Florida Legislature has created - and funded - a regional transportation authority with the power to condemn land, borrow money and operate a bay area train system.
"The Legislature's intent was to focus on transit first," says Bob Clifford, planning director for the Tampa Bay district of the Florida Department of Transportation."
"The new Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, with Clifford as unofficial chief of staff, must develop a master transportation plan by July 1, 2009. Iorio, the most prominent advocate of rail, hopes to convince voters in 2010 to approve tax increases to pay for the system."
"Ray Chiaramonte, interim director of Hillsborough County's Metropolitan Planning Organization, believes the county's earliest rail lines should connect Hillsborough's three largest jobs centers: downtown Tampa, Westshore and USF."
"[But] is Hillsborough [county] ready?
Chiaramonte says a rail plan is overdue. Other than Tampa and Detroit, each of the nation's 25 largest metropolitan areas is operating trains or planning to start, he said. Several smaller cities, such as Buffalo, Sacramento and Salt Lake City, are running trains.
Yet Steve Polzin, director of mobility policy at USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research, argues this area still isn't ready. Not when only one percent of travelers use buses, and where less than a fifth of all trips are for work. And only in Los Angeles are jobs more dispersed than in the Hillsborough-Pinellas area, Polzin says."