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Roundup 12-14-2012

December 14, 2012

Transportation Referenda

Hillsborough is only now starting to really think about transportation/transit again after 2010. Thankfully, at least some there have learned lessons from the past:

Hillsborough County needs to present a unified front on transportation initiatives to improve its chances of gaining support and funding, the executive director of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization said Tuesday.

“We need to speak with one voice if we want to get transit,” Ray Chiaramonte told a Tampa Downtown Partnership gathering in an analysis of the failed 2010 transportation referendum. The 1-cent increase in the county sales tax would have been used to fund light rail, bus and other mobility improvements.

* * *

“You’ve got to get everybody on the same page,” he said.

That includes acknowledging that county and city residents are likely to have different transportation goals, a point that became apparent in the failed referendum.

“It was looked at as a rail referendum,” Chiaramonte said. “We cannot do that again.”

Good analysis. However, unity of action appears to be a problem for some:

CSX Transportation officials have said that in recent months they have been approached by a handful of representatives from the Tampa area interested in using their tracks for some type of passenger rail system.

But each presented different proposals, which has hindered any chances for progress.

The last thing this area needs is more people working at cross purposes on transportation.  Get together.  Having the City not coordinated with the County, both not coordinated with planners, and, of course, HART lagging behind everyone, will get nothing accomplished.

It seems that Pinellas has been more successful learning lessons from Hillsborough.  And it is moving forward with an eye to 2014.

Supporters of redesigning Pinellas’ transit system believe that will require presenting the county’s voters with a detailed plan at the right moment. Last week, Miller proposed that the 1-cent sales tax, which could stabilize the agency’s finances and pay for new bus routes and commuter rail, go before the public in November 2014.

“The planning is not done — the planning is under way — but we think it’s important to set the date now so that over the next year we can focus the debate and the discussion about what should be in the plan or what are the priorities,” Miller said.

In its nascent form, the plan includes a rethinking of the county’s bus routes, many of which have not changed in about two decades. It also includes light rail — 24 miles of track stretching from downtown Clearwater to the Gateway area, and then south again to St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field. Cost estimates put the project between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion.

PSTA’s board will not vote on the 2014 time line until January, Miller said, but a majority of its members have already declared their support.

What is the reasoning behind the 2014 date?

Pinellas can’t wait any longer than 2014, said Commissioner Janet Long, who sits on PSTA’s board.

“We are falling further and further behind in terms of how we approach our public transportation system,” she said, pointing to the Republican National Convention in August, when delayed buses left some delegates fuming.

For PSTA, postponing the vote beyond 2014 could spell financial disaster. Without the sales tax, which would replace the property tax that currently funds the agency, Miller expects to cut bus service by 20 percent.

Exactly.  We applaud the deliberate effort of Pinellas, in contrast to the previous rush job in Hillsborough.  And it seems that maybe the recent election has changed (or more accurately reflected a change in) how issues are viewed.

Two years gives PSTA and other supporters plenty of time to sell the idea, said Commissioner Susan Latvala, a PSTA board member. The agency has already hired the Tampa public relations firm Tucker Hall, and Miller said he expects to have a complete project plan before the commission one year from now.

Hillsborough “didn’t have a viable plan,” Latvala said. “They made a lot of mistakes. And we won’t.”

Hopefully.  Time will tell.

PSTA/HART – the Saga Continues

The HART and PSTA boards, after having one study of the possibility of their merging that they did not want, then (some people) complaining about the results from consultants they chose, want the State to pay for another study.

Members of both the Hillsborough and Pinellas County transit agency boards remain divided on how much more they’d like the two systems to collaborate.

But both boards did agree Monday to ask the state to pay for a more detailed study of possible savings from a formal partnership.

While it seems that the PSTA Board may be open to more cooperation, HART’s board is twitchy about the whole thing:

A preliminary study of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit found that merging the two agencies could save about $2.4 million annually. But board members from both sides of the bay have challenged those figures, saying that higher salaries and new obligations could erase any savings from cutting duplicative positions.

That study also proposed a third route, a formal partnership called a joint powers authority. In this scenario, the agencies could combine their administrations, consolidating staff and equipment in one headquarters. But legally, they would remain separate entities, responsible for setting their own fares and bus routes.

Though some members of the Hillsborough board talked about the importance of regional transit, the majority of the board’s distaste for a formal alliance was obvious. When Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman suggested asking the state Legislature to pass a law allowing the agencies to form a joint powers authority, her colleagues shot it down.

What do you expect from HART?  (Maybe the County Commission should be more careful regarding the people they appoint to the Board)

Fortunately, there are other people who have a stake in the process and can have useful input.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, who sponsored legislation forcing the two sides to consider a merger, urged them to give it serious thought on Monday. He reminded the agencies that both are close to financial disaster, with their expenses growing and their tax rates already at, or near, their legal limit.

Latvala has said that if PSTA and HART don’t find a way to ally themselves and save money, he will not support increasing their tax rate caps.

“It’s a clear-cut deal here,” he said. “How can we be in politics and how can we represent the taxpayers if we have an example like this of something we’re shown could save a substantial amount of money, and we don’t take advantage of it?”

Further study is fine with us – with the caveat that we should guard against the Boards just using delay as a tactic to stonewall the cooperation/merger idea.  We have little faith that the HART Board is engaged in this process with good faith, and it is funny that Pinellas now seems to be way ahead of Hillsborough on transportation thinking in general (who would have thought that?).  Once again, we think it would be helpful to have an outside body – say TBARTA – oversee the study.

Bugatti Lanes

To help alleviate traffic, FDOT is considering “Lexus Lanes” – adding toll only lanes to the interstate with variable tolls based on demand and traffic – for the Tampa Bay area.   For all those so excited by the concept of “Lexus lanes,” we bring a cautionary tale from Atlanta:

The cost to use interstate toll roads in metro Atlanta, which has been steadily rising in recent months, has hit a new record.

WSB-TV reports (http://bit.ly/RGQqAZ) that motorists during Friday morning’s rush hour paid a record $6.35 to use the lanes.

Rates for the so-called HOT lanes on Interstate 85 northeast of Atlanta have increased in the past year, from $4.70 in February to $5 in April and now well over $6 some days.

Authorities with the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority say prices rise and fall throughout the day, depending on traffic volumes.

Yikes. While the idea of “Lexus lanes” makes some sense, there needs to be a cap on the amount of toll regardless of traffic.  Without one, these lanes will be irrelevant to the vast majority of people in the area – except to use their money for subsidize a luxury for very few.  How will that really relieve traffic?

Encore for Encore

A week after breaking ground on a new building and a day after the grand opening of the first building, Ella, the Encore project got more good news:

The Encore Tampa urban redevelopment project got a $30 million boost Thursday from the Obama administration.

* * *

With the Choice Neighborhoods grant, the housing authority can proceed with a fourth apartment building, the 203-unit Tempo.

* * *

Of the $30 million grant, $14 million will go to build the Tempo. In all, the building will have six sources of funding, including the grant, money from the housing authority, money borrowed through the use of tax-exempt bonds and money raised by selling tax credits that come to the authority through the bond financing.

The rest of the money will go to a variety of smaller issues in the project.

Once again, while we have some concerns about some design elements of this project, we are glad to see it getting built, and we look forward to three buildings under construction at the same time.  And, once again, hopefully the City has learned lessons from the whole process.

Rays – The Campaign the Return Minor League Baseball to St. Pete

Well, as we thought would probably happen, the Carillon stadium proposal is withering on the vine.

In artist renderings, the baseball stadium fronted Ulmerton Road, surrounded by gleaming Mediterranean Revival office buildings and apartments. Traffic studies touted favorable drive times across the Howard Frankland Bridge.

But two months after its unveiling, a proposed stadium at Carillon Business Park has lost whatever buzz it briefly sparked.

Disappointed city officials — who had hoped that Carillon might break a stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays — are back to square one, wondering about baseball’s long-term prospects in the region.

And Carillon’s developers — without any means to jump start their stadium project — are preparing to move on.

Plainly, the reason for this is that the Mayor of St. Pete really has no ideas beyond pursuing his personal rivalry with Tampa.

“I will never allow them to lose the fact that they owe the people of Pinellas County 1,215 home games at Tropicana Field,” Foster said. “I don’t care how much Tampa would be able to put up to finance a stadium, it will be 2028 before the first pitch in Tampa.”

That’s right, it’s all about Tampa, and the Mayor of St. Pete’s complete lack of confidence that his city can compete.  (That attitude surely is good for St. Pete and the area as a whole.)  We have said for a while that it seems that the Mayor of St. Pete would rather the area lose the team than take a chance they might play in Tampa.  He has done nothing to disabuse us of that notion.

Fortunately, there are some in St. Pete who see the folly of the Mayor’s position:

Charlie Gerdes is the only City Council member who favors letting the Rays look in Tampa — for a price. He thinks Pinellas has advantages that will shine through if the Rays can compare what each county has to offer.

Ultimately, Gerdes said, forbidding the Rays to explore stadium sites in Tampa will just drive them across the bay as the Trop contract nears its end in 2027.

“What we have done is totally prevented Mr. LeClair or anybody else from educating the Rays, selling, convincing or advocating why a site on this side of the bay is the perfect place,” Gerdes said. “Mr. LeClair undertook, on his own, a pretty expensive proposition and it is just sitting there? Come on.”

Unfortunately, there are few who speak out, at least publicly.

The fact remains: the Rays have no reason to sink millions into a stadium in a location they do not think will work.  One can stomp around about public funding, leases, and inter-city rivalry all one wants.  Nothing will change that simple fact.  As long as it is ignored, the area will suffer.

Bass Pro Shops – More Opposition

This week, even the Tribune’s venerable folksy columnist came out against the Bass Pro Shops deal (and to be clear, no one has come out against Bass Pro Shops, just the subsidy deal). He can speak for himself:

Tribune reporter Mike Salinero described what happenedat [sic] the Hillsborough County commissioners’ annual retreat last week when a group of high-tech entrepreneurs brought in by Commissioner Mark Sharpe complained that government was ignoring their types of business in favor of low-paying retail stores and massive call center operations.

All you have to do is take a couple of hours and drive around the ever-expanding perimeter of city and county growth to see the kinds of businesses we are adding to our sprawl. And we’re doing it with seemingly little planning and even less mass transportation to make it work.

I’ve been in Bass Pro stores. They are an asset to any area, and this one’s projected location on the outskirts of Brandon looks to be a good one.

In fact, my guess is the retailer’s people are well aware they have a potential winner in putting a store there, with or without a package as lucrative as the one the county is considering.

The point is we should be putting our resources into industries and businesses that will attract the jobs and cutting-edge projects of the future. The county needs to work more in concert with the city and resources such as the Port of Tampa and University of South Florida to build for our future and not just continue focusing on low-wage businesses that will send our graduates looking elsewhere for opportunity.

I’d take a pass on this one.

Us, too. The world has changed.  The County Commission needs to recognize that.

More Proof the World Has Changed

Further proof of the folly of relying on the low wage, real estate based economy came this week.  We learned that the foreclosure rate in Florida was going up, in contrast to the nation as whole, where it was dropping.

Florida is once again the foreclosure capital of the country thanks in part to Tampa Bay, where filings jumped and piled behind tens of thousands of pending cases.

Florida posted the nation’s highest foreclosure rate in November for the third month in a row, with foreclosure starts climbing 6 percent over the year before, data released today from RealtyTrac shows.

* * *

The gloomy news comes as foreclosure starts nationwide dropped to an almost six-year low, spotlighting Florida’s particularly marshy slog of mortgage defaults and repossessions.

Florida housed seven of the 10 highest metropolitan foreclosure rates last month, including Jacksonville, Miami, Sarasota and Gainesville, RealtyTrac data shows. Tampa Bay ranked No. 12, with one in 294 homes facing foreclosure.

The old model of building an economy on real estate keeps showing its flaws.  We need a new approach.

Shedding Light on Tampa’s DNA

Creative Loafing had a very interesting article regarding streetlights. Ok, it is not interesting because it deals with streetlights; it is interesting because it shows how things are done in Tampa.  It involves the Mayor’s initiative to install a larger number of new streetlights (which as a concept is fine). (Here is the press release)  The real question is why the City is going to use old, energy inefficient (and if priced properly, much more expensive in the long run) technology in the lights instead of LED technology and who gains from it.  Money quote:

The fact that TECO still doesn’t offer an LED tariff irks Tampa activists like attorney Spencer Kass. During the year-long debate about re-signing TECO’s franchise fee agreement in 2008, he challenged the Iorio administration to request such a tariff.

Kass contends that at one point, Darrell Smith, Mayor Iorio’s chief of staff, said that the issue could be negotiated after the franchise agreement. “What kind of stupid BS is that?” Kass says. “You don’t say you’re going to negotiate part of the contract after you give them the contract signed. Who negotiates like that?”

You should read the article (and the City press release linked in the first paragraph). It helps understand Tampa’s DNA.

How Not to Build a Pedestrian Friendly City

Just another example of what not to do, this is the new Related Companies apartment complex in Channelside, Pierhouse:

From Flikr account of andrew618 – click on picture for account

And

From Flikr account of andrew618 – click on picture for account

Nothing says pedestrian friendly, walkable city like shoving a garage onto the gateway to the Channel District.

Just why exactly is a barely screened garage fronting Meridian?  (Because the City doesn’t care?) How is that properly developing an urban environment in Channelside? (It’s not) How does this move the InVision Tampa concepts – which are obvious and should have been known at the time this was approved- forward? (It doesn’t)

Just another example of why planning is irrelevant when the City is just willing to settle.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is the Smartest Cities in North America. The criteria can be found on the linked page.  Boston is number 1, followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, NYC, DC, Toronto, Chicago, LA, and Montreal.

If you follow our List of the Week items you will not be terribly surprised that Florida got shut out (Though we are a little surprised that neither Dallas nor Atlanta cracked the top 10).

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is the healthiest states from the United Health Foundation. The top 5 are Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Minnesota.  Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, and South Carolina were at the bottom.  Florida was 34th

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    December 14, 2012 11:00 AM

    In talking about rail, it would be nice if everone got educated on the various types so that, if a viable plan is ever put together, voters will know what they are getting. Commuter rail is typically more long-haul (think Venice/Sarasota to Tampa), and often shares tracks with freight lines (e.g. CSX). We don’t need this. Light rail is typically an updated streetcar concept with multiple cars, deployed at-grade, and mixed with vehicular traffic which limits top speeds. We don’t need this. A METRO system is typically underground or elevated, and can cover both short and long haul needs via local and express routes with high speeds possible, due to its exclusive right-of-way and separation from traffice. An elevated regional METRO aligned along existing high-activity corridors is what Tampa Bay needs. Anything else will be a total failure.

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