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Rail, again: Tampa Bay Exceptionalism

August 26, 2011

A while back, Tampasphere discussed at some length (here and here) the different approaches taken by Hillsborough County and Orlando after their respective referenda regarding sales taxes for transportation – mainly rail – failed.  We pointed out that unlike Tampa/Hillsborough County, Orlando worked hard, got creative, developed and used its political power and succeeded in getting rail transit – Sunrail. We concluded by saying the following:

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.

As we quoted the director of the MPO saying:

 “I can’t believe we will be the only metropolitan area of the top 30 without it.”

Well, Mr. Director, maybe you should believe.

But first, let’s look at a surprising proposal – not because it is an odd proposal, many regions do it – but because someone in this area who has a political office actually raised the idea:

Victor Crist stunned colleagues on the Hillsborough County Commission and the county’s aviation authority when he proposed cooperative efforts among the area’s seaports and airports that typically compete.

“We need to take a look at how we could benefit the region by thinking differently and cooperatively,” Crist said this year. “The only obstacle would be those who want to hold on to their power.

“We must take baby steps,” he said, proposing discussion of cooperative, regional prospects before endorsing changes to how things are run today.

Tampasphere thinks this is a fine idea – especially for transit – which is what TBARTA is supposed to be doing.  Transportation knows no artificial boundaries, and, if we are truly a region (which everyone says, but many from their actions and language seem not to believe), our transit should be regional – like Sunrail will be and most major systems are.

Maybe this is the overt example of a local leader looking around the country to see how other areas get things done.  Maybe short term politics is taking a back seat to long term planning.

Maybe, but we wouldn’t count on it. To wit:

One of the leaders of the No Tax for Tracks organization that helped defeat a transit tax referendum last November was named to the board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority on Wednesday.

Karen Joroch, chair of the Tampa 912 Project and a tea party advocate, got the votes of six county commissioners for the board seat.

* * *

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, an outspoken proponent of the tax and building a light-rail system, voted along with five other commissioners for Jaroch. Only Democrat Kevin Beckner voted for another applicant.

So the Commissioner that proposed merging the transit agencies voted for this new HART board member.  Well, Tampasphere is willing to hear people out.  What did another Commissioner give as the reasoning behind the appointment?

Sharpe said he got to know Jaroch through debates over the transit tax and found her to be well prepared and knowledgeable. He said Jaroch has been attending HART board meetings and that she told him she favors mass transit, though not rail.

The new board member favors mass transit?  From the No Tax for Tracks website landing page from today:

Main Topic of the Moment

The No Tax For Tracks campaign aspires to preserve the American Dream by opposing the anti-suburban polices implied by so called “Smart Growth.” By opposing so called “Smart Growth” the No Tax For Tracks campaign endeavors to preserve the higher quality of life implied by affordable housing, as well promote the higher standard of living made possible when adequate roads reduce congestion and thus improve economic growth.

Not exactly a transit oriented mission – rail or otherwise.

Frankly, we hate having to go over this but – a higher standard of living requires improving the local economy.  Improving the local economy involves attracting high paying jobs – particularly knowledge based and high tech jobs – which tend to go to places that have walkable areas, “smart growth,” and proper transit, because the people who hire for and perform those jobs like those sort of things.  Those amenities create employment because they require workers – probably a lot of the people who used to be involved in all the development in the suburbs that is not going on right now. And all the jobs, income, and urban development add to the tax base so that taxes do not have to be so high.  Also, services to build up areas are cheaper to set up and maintain, creating economic efficiency for government services.  (Oh, and most major areas in the South – even Rick Perry’s Texas, especially the higher growth areas – Dallas, Austin, Houston, Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Norfolk, Miami, Orlando, New Orleans [Raleigh and Ft. Lauderdale are looking at it], not to mention very conservative Phoenix where rail ridership is up and buses down  –  have or are planning rail transit, some more successful than others – but learning what to do and what not to do is part of the hard work necessary.)

But we suppose that is all beside the point.

We will say it again:

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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