Members of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization (MPO) received a briefing Tuesday regarding the upcoming feasibility study of all “premium transit” options that the Florida Department of Transportation will be conducting for the Tampa Bay area. Those options include bus rapid transit, light rail and commuter rail. HART has been assigned to conduct the study, and FDOT has allocated $1 million dollars and about 12 to 14 months for it.
Ming Gao with FDOT went before the MPO to discuss how the NEPA process (National Environmental Policy Act) is to play out. NEPA is the primary law governing the Federal Transit Administration’s environmental protection process. Gao said typically the premium transit study would cost around $500,000.
MPO Chairman Les Miller spoke with concern saying he’d heard the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group was planning to request funding from the Legislature for the premium transit study.
“The theory is that we start asking now,” said MPO board member and Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. The Legislature’s regular session begins next week. She said she was about to meet with Pasco County state Sen. John Legg to discuss the issue. “There’s not a specific dollar to my knowledge that we’re going to be asking for.”
Miller, though, said that without a specific financial number to ask for, it would be prudent to wait until HART completes its study.
Montelione said it was more than likely that no money would come from the Legislature this session, but it would “start the conversation” to prep lawmakers about the future need.
Miller didn’t buy it, and the two had a several-minute exchange, essentially repeating their stands on the issue.
Gao said any future legislative request will become a line item, subject to a governor’s veto. “If it’s vetoed by the governor, then it would jeopardize any future funding for the project,” he said, adding not just for this legislative session.
“I just think it’s absolutely wrong for the TMA to be asking, or even talking to legislators right now about any funding when the study hasn’t even been started yet,” he said.
One of the most hyped proposals that could be considered in the premium transit study is the possibility of using CSX railroad tracks that connect Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater. A second CSX line begins in Tampa and cuts through USF before going through Pasco County up to central Hernando County.
No specific proposals for what might result from the study were discussed at the MPO meeting.