In recent months, we’ve seen the efforts of Greenlight Pinellas bringing forth more and more supporters who want better transit for Pinellas County. However, we’re also seeing that other municipalities have been reluctant to move forward with transit expansion plans, fearing that past attempts may come back to haunt them, or that fiscal conservatives may greatly sway public opinion in going against more transit options, because they would cost taxpayers too much and put them on the hook should plans for transit expansion go down the tubes.
Here in Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners have been taking a back seat when it comes to whether or not they’ll push to get another transit referendum on the ballot in 2015 or 2016. Many members have been very reluctant to move forward, citing that the 2010 defeat is still too fresh in voters minds to make another attempt right away. They would rather play “wait and see” with how Greenlight Pinellas will fare in the November, 2014 elections before making a firm decision as to whether or not to put something on the ballot.
Furthermore, the transit activist group Connect Tampa Bay recently learned that the county commission has not yet provided funds to the regional transportation authority TBARTA, to be able to continue working to improve Tampa Bay’s transportation network. But wait…it doesn’t stop there. The money that the commission is holding back from TBARTA was already approved. So what’s the holdup? Why is the county commision doing this? If they don’t want to lead the way in getting Hillsborough County a better transit system, then why do things to hold the region back? Please help get the message to the Hillsborough County Commission that we won’t settle for this!
Meanwhile, anti-tax group No Tax for Tracks is working hard to derail Pinellas’ transit expansion plans, arguing that the county doesn’t need expanded transit, but rather that its transit agency, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, is mismanaged and needs to “clean house”. The group also argues that only a handful of bus routes gain enough riders to be able to justify such a system expansion. In my view, seeing an adjacent municipality to just sit there and do nothing about transit expansion gives groups like NTFT even more ammunition to shoot down efforts going on in Pinellas. Remember, what happens in Pinellas is going to impact all of us here in Tampa Bay, whether you’re a Pinellas resident or not.
In the municipality of Virginia Beach, voters overwhelmingly decided to pass a resolution in the fall of 2012 that would allow for an ultimate expansion of Norfolk’s light rail line to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Until now however, the city has not yet made a move as to whether they’ll firmly push forward with plans put forth by the region’s transit agency, Hampton Roads Transit, or go with one of a couple privately-backed proposals that tout an earlier completion date of the rail extension at a lower cost than the transit agency’s estimates.
By the Virginia Beach city council lingering on the issue longer and longer without a decision will hurt the city’s chances of getting improved transit to their neck of the woods. In fact, it would be a terrible mistake for Virginia Beach not to bring light rail to the Oceanfront, because the economic and political situation now may get even worse down the road, even if technology gets better. There would be no sense in trying to implement better rail technology if the government has no funding to be able to implement it.
Both Hillsborough County and Virginia Beach have a lot riding on the rails right now. Both governments are clearly very reluctant to push forth transit improvements, yet transit supporters can’t let these municipalities just skirt on by like this. We have to get the message to our elected officials that we will not settle for the status quo, and that we won’t let them just play “wait and see”! We have to move ahead with providing additional options for people who no longer want to be confined to just driving from A to B and being stuck in gridlock in the process!