Thursday, July 03, 2014

Florida county pro-LRT group eyes referendum

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Pro-rail forces backing light rail transit in Pinellas County, Fla., are actively generating publicity and reaching out to voters prior to an election this November seeking approval for the first LRT system in the Tampa Bay region.

"Greenlight Pinellas" has attempted to unify businesses, chambers of commerce, and citizens "across Tampa Bay" to "Vote Yes on Greenlight Pinellas" in an election year that includes contests for Florida governor and U.S. congressional seats.

Though referred to at times as "commuter rail" in pro-rail literature, the LRT proposal was formally approved in February 2012 by the Pinellas County Project Advisory Committee. If voters give their own approval, the $1.5 billion project would include 16 stations on 24 miles of rail, linking downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. (shown in photo) with downtown Clearwater, both on the western side of Tampa Bay. A one-cent sales tax increase would fund the effort.

Campaign Finance Committee Chair Alex Glenn, though confident, acknowledges in a statement that the pro-rail forces are "facing a small but highly motivated opposition campaign, who have a good track record of getting out the vote."

The campaign's literature, countering claims of population density unfit for LRT, notes, "With an average of just over five residents per acre currently within the one-half mile area of the route, Pinellas County's concentration of residents is higher than St. Louis, Charlotte, Denver, Dallas, Portland, Minneapolis, and Houston, all which have light rail in place. While Pinellas County's existing employment densities are lower in comparison to these places, light rail is proven to attract development and jobs, even before the rail line opens."

By contrast, the city of Tampa, in nearby Hillsborough County, in 2010 rejected plans to establish a comparable measure to establish LRT. Within Tampa, the 2.7-mile TECO Line Streetcar, operated by Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART), remains highly vulnerable to annual operating woes and, while a tourist attraction, is considered by many not to be a serious transport option.