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HART's proposed transit plan adds buses, but no rail through 2023

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Published:   |   Updated: August 20, 2013 at 01:35 PM

TAMPA — HART released details Monday of two options for transportation equipment and service through 2023, the bolder “vision” adding 175 buses, 31 routes and enhancing 50 others, but at a cost of $1.5 billion that is $667 million short of funds the transit company envisions as readily available.

A so-called ”status-quo” option would focus on preserving current levels of service enhanced by additional non-peak hour service at a 10-year operational and capital improvements cost of about $814 million, $65 million short of known funding sources.

Neither plan includes light-rail, a short-run demonstration rail system, or enhancements that could increase ridership on the streetcar HART does not own but operates between downtown Tampa and Ybor City.

“The Transit Development Plan update does not preclude other modes including rail from being implemented in the future if sufficient transit traffic is built up using buses,” Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority executive director Philip Hale said. “You can do a lot of things with a plan, but you have to pay for them.”

The state requires HART produce a transit development business plan, known as the TDP. HART's board approved the current plan in 2011 without a rail option in the wake of the failed 2010 sales-tax referendum that would have funded light-rail and other transportation improvements.

HART Chief Financial Officer Jeff Seward presented plentiful detail and context Monday to the HART finance, governance and administration committee. The HART board is scheduled to review the plan Sept. 9 before approving it Sept. 23 and then submitting it to the Florida Department of Transportation.

HART would not necessarily pursue every option in the “vision” plan.

“This shows, if you had $200 million, what would you do with it,” Seward said.

The TDP with its annual outlook up to 10 years does not conflict with longer range plans by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority or the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, both of which include rail concepts.

Nor does it conflict with current Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority plans, or that county's 2014 referendum to fund a light rail line between Clearwater, the Carillon area and St. Petersburg. That concept envisions a subsequent rail connection across the Howard Frankland Bridge and Tampa, but that leg is not covered in the 2014 vote.

However, if the Pinellas light-rail initiative passes, it's likely the Hillsborough rail debate would take on a new focus as Pinellas County could gain competitive momentum in economic development opportunities and influence over the location of a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark.

“HART doesn't need to run a rail system,” said Kevin Thurman, executive director of the Connect Tampa Bay transportation advocacy group. “Some other organization could do that. My worry is that they could leave federal and state matching dollars on the table and put local taxpayers at a significant higher burden than in other areas.”

The six new MetroRapid routes in HART's “vision” plan beyond the current northeast Tampa-downtown route are: Tampa International Airport and Temple Terrace, which could be completed in September 2016; New Tampa and downtown by September 2018; Tampa International Airport and downtown via Kennedy Boulevard by September 2019; Brandon and downtown by September 2019; Lutz and MacDill Air Force Base via Dale Mabry Highway by September 2021; and the Northwest Transfer Center near Citrus Park and the netp@rk Transfer Center in Temple Terrace by September 2022.

The HART committee Monday also reviewed a proposed operating and capital budget for fiscal 2014 of $85.5 million, not including about $896 thousand recommended in a collective bargaining agreement with bus and van operators and mechanics from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593. The board is expected to approve that contract next month that will increase entry level bus drive pay from $11.91 an hour to $12.21.

HART loses about 40 percent of its drivers in their first year because it cannot compete with other job offers, said Michael Stephens, director of human resources, risk and legal services.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7817

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