The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority is losing its first and only executive director.
Bob Clifford, who led TBARTA since its creation in 2007, has resigned to accept a position with Tampa transportation consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The move is effective June 29.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, a member of the TBARTA board, said Clifford will be difficult to replace.
“I think Bob Clifford is one of the best we’ve had here in Tampa Bay with regard to transportation,” Sharpe said. “I’m very sorry to see him leave.
“He was like Switzerland in his ability to work with everyone and get them to collaborate,” Sharpe said. “There is one in a hundred who could do that job and he is the one in a hundred, so it will be tough to replace him.”
TBARTA was created by the Legislature to develop and initiate a master plan for passenger and freight transportation that would connect Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Hernando, Manatee, Citrus and Sarasota counties, to the extent feasible. It had almost no funding in the beginning.
Since that time, however, Clifford said TBARTA has built up its own budget, starting with a one-time $2 million infusion from the Florida Legislature back in 2010, a successful van pool program that is making money and federal funding that has been spread through the region’s transit community because of the van pool program’s success.
In his letter of resignation, Clifford observed that “seeing the agency grow from a legislative vision to a functioning and independent organization that makes a difference in the region has been a truly memorable and rewarding experience.”
“I think things are in real good shape,” Clifford said. “The biggest accomplishment, overall, has been that resurgence and continued support for different partners collaborating together. The days of one entity trying to go it alone, you just can’t do it that way anymore.”
Of TBARTA’s top five priorities, three have been funded, Clifford said. Those projects include: a replacement structure for the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, which will include provisions for transit, (future rails and more immediately, for express buses); the People Mover at Tampa International Airport to connect to its future intermodal center in the West Shore Business District, which could serve light rail, buses and taxis: and in Pinellas, the Gateway Express Project, which is a new toll highway with elevated portions that will allow commuters to go from U.S. 19 all the way to Tampa without hitting a traffic light. “That has been a major priority in Pinellas for many years,” Clifford said.
Two TBARTA priorities not yet funded are express lanes on Interstate 275 and the I-275/State Road 60 Memorial Interchange.
“We would have been pleased if we got one project funded,” Clifford said. “We got three and we see the others coming on soon.” Continuing to have everyone work together on those big priorities is key, he said. “You have to be bold and you have speak with one voice.”
Ronnie Duncan, chairman of TBARTA’s Board of Directors, said he looked forward to Clifford’s continued involvement in regional transportation issues in the future.
“For the past seven years you have served with distinction, dedication and commitment to the TBARTA mission,” Duncan said of Clifford in a TBARTA news release. “Your approach has always been one of cooperation and collaboration.”
Despite Clifford’s optimistic view of where things stand for TBARTA, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who also sits on the board, said Clifford’s resignation might prompt more action from the legislature to fund TBARTA more fully and to develop a more definitive agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation on how to move forward with its mission.
“It’s just unfortunate, the state is not funding TBARTA fully. I think that kind of put him in a bind in how to keep the organization afloat and moving in the right direction,” Murman said.
But Clifford said that had nothing to do with his departure. “We are stable. It’s really about personal opportunity. It was a personal decision,” he said. “I wasn’t looking. They came to me.”
The board is expected to select an interim executive director and initiate a search for a permanent successor at its next meeting June 13. Sharpe said he expects it to be a nationwide search.