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Hillsborough County transit agency has $50 million in needs from Tallahassee this session

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Last week the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that HART is seeking more than $50 million from the Florida Legislature this year, an amount that apparently surprised some members of the Hillsborough County transit agency.

“I don’t remember $50 million,” board member Bryan Crino confessed at the agency’s monthly board meeting on Monday.

That’s because most of the discussion at the board in recent months has been regarding a $7 million request for a down payment on the creation of a farebox system that would allow bus riders from Sarasota up to Hernando to use the same bus fare technology.

“What was the feedback that you received?” Crino asked HART CEO Katharine Eagan about the TBBJ article. He added that though $50 million might seem like a large chunk of money to the general public, it was actually just a “drop in the bucket from a regional transportation perspective.”

That led to a broader discussion about how effective HART can be in preparing to make such a big ask before the Legislature this session.

“We were late to the game this year,” board member Kathleen Shanahan explained, not for the first time since being appointed to represent the city on the board last fall by Bob Buckhorn. “I think we have to take this as a lesson to say that we need to get in early, we’ve got to be consistent (and) educate the members.” Like Crino, Shanahan admitted that she, too, has been focused mostly on the $7 million request.

Eagan told board members she’ll be appearing in front of the Transportation Economic Development Subcommittee chaired by Pinellas County’s state Sen. Jack Latvala next week.

That news surprised Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman, who said Eagan could utilize the depth of knowledge that she and fellow board member Les Miller accumulated while serving in the Legislature. “We still have a  lot of relationships up there,” she said, “We could set the stage for you.”

“It’s going to take the entire session to get what we want,” chimed in Miller.

Among the other needs that HART has hopes for include over $21 million for the  construction and capital investments for the East/West MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit Construction. Another $8.75 million would pay for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses to support the route.

They’re also looking for $1 million for the TECO Streetcar; $1.765 million for a Project Development & Environmental (PD&E) for HART’s MetroRapid project along Kennedy Blvd., and over $16.6 million to purchase 53 new CNG buses.

Meanwhile, Go Hillsborough, the brand associated with actively seeking out public comment on addressing the county’s transit needs, will be holding another public meeting tonight in South Tampa.

Murman said she’s attended three such meetings already, and heard a lot about traffic congestion and insufficient bus service. She said she thinks that HART should do further outreach to see what HART passengers want out of the system. HART CEO Katharine Eagan said the agency is working on doing exactly that with focus groups. “Our patrons are less concerned with buses being on time and more concerned with making connections and getting to where they need to go,” she said.

Tonight’s meeting takes place at the Manhattan Avenue United Methodist Church, 4511 South Manhattan Avenue, Tampa.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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