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Rail: no “vision thing”

July 19, 2011

Just a couple of weeks ago, Tampasphere discussed the approval of Sunrail in Orlando and the differing approaches taken by the Tampa Bay area and Orlando when their respective tax referendums to fund light rail were defeated – Orlando rolled up it sleeves and came up with a creative plan while Hillsborough County, ignoring Orlando’s experience, for the foreseeable future basically has quit.

Well, yesterday, Orlando got federal funds for Sunrail (admittedly not that much money right now, but more than we have).  As the Federal Transporation Secretary said:

“When you get your act together, unbelievable things can happen. … And look what’s happening: SunRail is coming,” LaHood said.

Meanwhile, back in Hillsborough County, HART has taken rail out of its “Transit Development Plan”  (Not exactly getting our act together) The Tribune tells us the Transit Development Plan is the “visioning” plan for the next ten years:

“The light rail service included in last year’s rapid transit investment plan has been set aside because the high cost associated with light rail implementation is not assumed to be affordable within the next 10-year period,” HART’s 2021 update states.

The plan instead focuses on more bus service on existing routes; new routes serving areas now without bus service; bus rapid transit service on major travel corridors, including State Road 60 to Brandon, Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard; regional connections with Pinellas and Pasco County bus service, and acquiring new buses.

Tampasphere hardly calls that a “vision.” (See our discussion of “bus rapid transit”)  Vision is understanding the needs of the area and coming up with a creative plan for getting it done, a la Sunrail.

HART spokeswoman Marcia Mejia acknowledged that the plan presented to the board “must be realistic.”

Well, Sunrail is going to be a reality  – even with failed referenda (did she “acknowledge” that) – so Tampasphere is not sure what keeping rail in the plan is not “realistic.”  Rail transit in the Tampa Bay area certainly will never be a reality if those who are supposed to have “vision” give up rather than get to work.

Moreover, as the MPO director said:

“We are doing a lot of background work, looking at what caused people to reject the light rail plan in Hillsborough County,” Chiaramonte said.

“It was not that all people are against rail transit,” he said of the vote that narrowly passed within Tampa city limits but was opposed by voters beyond where light-rail was initially planned.

As we explained before, no, all people are not against rail.  However, HART did not give them a real plan.  And what HART did provide completely ignored the County.  Pretty simple really – now can we get to work on a creative plan.  He continued:

“There was a lot of confusion between high-speed rail and light-rail and the universe crashed (economically). I can’t believe we will be the only metropolitan area of the top 30 without it.”

As Tampasphere pointed out previously, who exactly, if not HART itself, was supposed to educate the voters about the different types of rail?

An even better question is why rail is realistic everywhere but here?  Namely, it seems, because other places and their leaders seem to have a different vision of what is realistic.  It is no wonder we are so often playing catch-up.

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