Plenty of interest remains in transportation improvements despite recent voter backlash against public funding of transportation systems, the director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority said Friday.
Bob Clifford pointed to 60,500 people who joined TBARTA "Town Hall" telephone meetings last month after being contacted randomly through a phone message Clifford recorded.
Clifford and board members answered more than 140 questions in live responses to questions whose focus varied by county.
There's a lot of confusion about transportation issues among the general public, board members agreed Friday.
That echoed the post-mortem appraisal light rail and high-speed rail advocates in Tampa's business community reached following Gov Rick Scott's rejection of $2.3 billion in high-speed rail funds and the failure of Hillsborough voters to approve a one cent on the dollar sales tax increase to start light rail.
"We need to clarify the message" about the impact of transportation on the region's quality of life and economic development, said TBARTA board member Ronnie Duncan, who heads a Tampa-based real estate firm and is a former Pinellas commissioner.
"Road transportation is not free," Duncan said in response to continued criticism that passenger rail systems do not operate in the black. "(Highway) maintenance is not free."
Among the questions the telephone town hall participants raised:
•From Hillsborough County - How will TBARTA's plans interact with HART's plans and system? Can Hillsborough focus on improving the bus system and make better use of existing roadways? Where will funding for new transit come from?
•From Pasco - Will light rail run in Pasco County? Will transportation be improved for senior citizens and the handicapped? Where will funding for a new transit system come from? Can freight trucks bypass certain routes to alleviate congestion?
•From Pinellas - Will there be improved transit to and from the Pinellas beaches? Will waterborne transit be considered as a way to move people in Pinellas? Will gasoline prices be considered when planning for improved transportation?
• From Citrus and Hernando - Are there plans to use existing railroad corridors for passenger transport? Why is Florida moving slowly to improve transportation? Is the Suncoast Parkway going to be changed/extended?
•From Manatee County - Will there be rail service to downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport? Will local bus service schedules be improved to run later and more frequently? Will roadways be improved for the safety of bicyclists?
• From Sarasota - Will seniors get a discount on fares? Where will funding for the new transit system come from? Will TBARTA look to Europe for inspiration on successful bus and rail systems?