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Light rail ranks as top choice in Tampa Bay premium transit study

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Since the demise of the Go Hillsborough initiative last year, transit officials and Tampa Bay-area lawmakers have pinned their hopes on a transportation study overseen by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART).

On Friday, organizers behind the study — which was paid for by the Florida Department of Transportation — released their top five recommended projects. The number one ranked option is a light-rail system from Wesley Chapel to the University of South Florida Tampa campus and on to St. Petersburg.

In all, officials with what is known as the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan revealed the top six options at a meeting in Tampa.

The six were culled from an original review of the more than 55 transportation plans and studies that have already been completed by Tampa Bay area agencies over the past 30 years to determine where the strongest corridors are for possible transit options and what those projects would look like.

Coming in second was a Wesley Chapel to USF to St. Petersburg route “on rubber tire” that includes dedicated lanes.

Third — a light-rail line from downtown Tampa to USF.

Fourth — a downtown Tampa to USF route “on rubber tire” and dedicated lanes.

Fifth — a Wesley Chapel to USF and on to St. Petersburg commuter rail line. It tied with a downtown Tampa to USF connection on commuter rail.

“The ranking presented today at the Transportation Management Area Leadership group meeting was a result of a preliminary technical evaluation based on FTA (Federal Transit Administration) criteria. This is not a final ranking or recommended alternative,” says FDOT spokesperson Kris Carson. “This ranking provides the study team a guide on what projects to focus on in the next phase of the study which will include cost analysis, public outreach, potential impacts, right-of-way costs and local government input.”

The two-year planning process with the study began last fall, with the locally preferred alternative not which is expected to be completed in October 2018.

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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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