Although a potential new transit route connecting people in the Tampa Bay area is still a long way from being a reality, two Hillsborough County Commissioners say that once such a route is identified, it should be built as soon as possible.
That topic came up on Monday at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) Legislative and Strategic Planning Committee Meeting.
As the search for solutions to improve transportation in the Tampa Bay area slowly moves forward, transit fans received some news last month when five potential routes identified for a future transit system in Tampa Bay were unveiled. Identifying those routes is part of the first step of a much touted regional premium transit feasibility plan in the region being funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Jacobs Engineering is charged with overseeing the report. Last month they identified these five routes as a starting point:
1) Westshore to Brandon
2) Downtown Tampa to USF
3) Wesley Chapel, USF Tampa — St. Petersburg
4) Clearwater, Gateway St. Petersburg
5) South Tampa to downtown Tampa
The Tampa Bay region is defined for this plan as the urbanized areas of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties.
Scott Pringle from Jacobs Engineering told HART board members that his team will soon begin holding public workshops to get more feedback on the proposed routes, with the five projects whittle down to three by this fall.
Step three will focus on how and who are the best projects built, starting next January.
“We’re going to take a step back and fully vet that draft with the community from January to October,” said Pringle. “We’re going to have a lot of outreach at the beginning and spend almost nine months just vetting that.”
“Have you considered adding an element to plan what can be produced the fastest?” asked Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, the chair of the subcommittee.
Murman said that members of the public aren’t willing to wait ten to twenty years to see a transit project be built, and asked if speed to produce a route was a factor in his calculations?
Pringle said that he has thought about an initial “catalyst project” that could generate excitement and would be eligible for federal funding once it was scheduled to be built, adding that the “sense I’m getting is that there might be multiple catalyst projects, and then you start building that network.”
“People really want something more quickly deployed than in decades,” added HART board member and fellow County Commissioner Pat Kemp, adding she hopes that whatever that catalyst project was, it would be “congestion-proof,” a point that Pringle heartily agreed with.
HART board member Kathleen Shanahan wanted to be apprised by Pringle on how many people his agency is communicating with outside of HART and FDOT, saying that “people should know about this study and be able to engage.”
Pringle responded by saying that there has been a business leaders group already formed made up of members of the respective Chambers of Commerce from all three counties, but he agreed with her premise.
“You’re right. We can’t just be talking to ourselves.”
The most immediate step for Jacobs Engineering is a meeting scheduled with the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group (TMA) for Friday, June 2.