Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tampa LRT backers: Airport link isn’t end-all

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Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART) officials advancing light rail transit for Tampa, Fla., want LRT to do more than just connect with Tampa International Airport. HART planners Monday suggested an initial LRT could run 1.1 miles north beyond the airport, terminating at Hillsborough Avenue and linking LRT with bus services from northern and western portions of the Tampa Bay area.

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HART’s Board of Directors have yet to make a final determination of any initial route, which would occur only if Hillsborough County voters approve a sales tax increase of one cent on Election Day Nov. 2to fund light rail and other transportation projects.

HART’s planning staff is expected to provide ridership projections and other data on two route choices at the board’s next meeting Oct. 18, including modal options such as LRT or buses. The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization has backed LRT over Bus Rapid Transit due to LRT’s ability to foster economic development, according to a letter from the MPO to HART.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has been an ardent supporter of LRT, as has Tampa Bay Partnership, a non-profit business advocacy group. But opponents to LRT development have grown more strident in recent weeks, targeting the existing 2.3-mile, 12-station TECO streetcar line in downtown Tampa, serving the city’s waterfront, as an example of rail's “misuse” of transportation dollars. Anti-rail partisans also have received counsel from anti-rail “troubadors” who this month visited the city to argue against the mode.