Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tampa, Fla., seeks to combine rail corridor plan

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Rather than choosing between North Tampa to Downtown and Downtown to West Shore corridors to launch Tampa's first light rail route, local planners may combine them in a funding proposal to federal officials later this year, the Tribune reports. And plans for the initial northern terminus for a light rail line could be extended to the northeast beyond Skipper Road to the vicinity of Cross Creek, just beyond Interstate 75, to make the project more attractive to potential federal investments.

However, the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce's wish to consider light rail along Dale Mabry Highway to serve Hillsborough Community College, St. Joseph's Hospital and Raymond James Stadium from the vicinity of Tampa International Airport will not take place until a second study is undertaken.

The Hillsborough Transit Authority board of directors in a Feb. 15 workshop continued to refine their choices for a route that would be the centerpiece of a countywide, and eventually regional, mass transit improvement plan. The HART board is holding public outreach meetings on the mobility.

The board at its March 1 meeting will begin to discuss public recommendations and in June intends to decide on an initial route and technology. It is widely anticipated that light rail will serve as the core of a network that also will have bus rapid transit service, although multiple technologies must be evaluated to qualify for federal funding.

In November, Hillsborough voters are expected to decide on a one-cent sales tax surcharge that would provide a local commitment required to gain federal funds for a multibillion dollar transit network that could be ready for operation by 2020 a document presented Monday showed, although previous reports have said the first light rail line could be built by 2018.

The cost of enhanced transit cannot be determined until both the route and technology are decided upon. Nor is it certain how much money the federal government would be willing to provide until the application is evaluated in competition with bids by other cities for funds.

The sales tax surcharge would provide an estimated $7.47 billion over 30 years, previous estimates have stated. An estimate by a consultant for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority in August estimated a 52-mile rail route between Wesley Chapel through Tampa to St. Petersburg would cost between $2.8 billion and $5.7 billion to build.

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