No new funding = Bare-Bones service

As you may have heard; HART and PSTA posted news last week of record ridership during the month of April, which continues to be an amazing trend despite the current state of the economy throughout the Bay Area.

However, I really have to make things clear about the reality of the current transit funding situation, because some people don’t seem to realize that you can’t have expanded transit service without money to fund those services. When I was reading comments on HART and PSTA’s Facebook pages, some people were asking why can’t we get more routes or buses? Again, if there is no funding available, then there is simply no way to get new buses or routes…it’s as simple as that.

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Will we ever see any type of rail in the interstate medians?

As the title reads, this is a question that I ask myself from time to time. If you reside in the Tampa area, then you likely already know what exactly I am referring to. I am speaking of the wide open median that encompasses much of Interstate 4 from Ybor City going towards the Orlando area. In the next few years, Interstate 275 from downtown Tampa to the Howard Frankland Bridge will also have a much wider median upon completion of the ongoing reconstruction project.

For many years, it was envisioned that some form of rail would eventually fill the these wide medians; whether it be light rail, commuter rail, or even high speed rail. Since the early 2000s at least, high speed rail was planned to eventually run from Tampa to Orlando via the I-4 median, with a possible extension later to St. Pete on the west end, and towards Jacksonville and Miami on the eastern end, eventually being extended up the eastern seaboard.

However; a couple plans for high speed rail in Florida were rejected, most recently in 2010 by Governor Rick Scott, who was heavily concerned that the costs of construction and maintenance would supersede any financial benefit to the state. Although I have always questioned the ridership potential for a high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, I knew that such a line would be beneficial to the state. We must now wait another 2 years at least before we know if we will have another chance at high speed rail.

Commuter rail presents another possibility for these wide open interstate medians. Although it would be practical to utilize existing freight rail lines that run alongside I-4, I can certainly envision a two or three-tracked commuter rail line running the entire length of the I-4 median from Daytona Beach to Tampa and St. Pete. Light rail has also been talked about in recent years, but I strongly believe that light rail in the interstate median is not a good choice. I believe that light rail should remain on surface streets unless it is absolutely necessary to have it run through an interstate median.

Unfortunately, ever since Rick Scott was elected as Florida’s Governor, there has been increased talk about “Managed Lanes” which are basically tolled HOV lanes that would run through the median of various freeways to alleviate congestion during rush hour. These lanes would allow carpooled vehicles and buses to flow freely past gridlocked traffic for a fee. With the state cash-strapped due to the recent recession, the possibility of managed lanes is gradually increasing. In fact, managed lanes already exist in the Miami area along a portion of I-95. And so far, its been a success.

To read up on what exactly managed lanes are, and how they’re already in use in Miami, click here. Although this news article is somewhat dated, it was published in the Tampa Tribune in December of 2011.

So what to you think about all this? Do you think we will ever see rail in the median of I-4 and I-275? Or will these managed lanes eventually take over the state? I invite you to answer my corresponding poll question and comment on this post. I definitely want to hear what you have to say on this matter.

Please know that the poll question will be open for 30 days. After that period has passed, the poll will close.

Have a great week!

HARTride 2012

To the ballot…..now what?

Well folks, the people have spoken! The sales tax question will be on the November ballot. But now we must build enough support to pass it.

Future of Tampa light rail left to voters
Friday, May 14, 2010

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY (Bay News 9) — After a four-hour-long public hearing, Hillsborough County commissioners decided to put the proposed one-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects up for a popular vote.

In November, voters will be asked to approve a sales tax for transit projects, including light rail.

The final public hearing on the sales tax referendum brought overwhelming turnout on Thursday night.

Over 150 people showed up at the meeting, which started at 6 p.m. at All People’s Life Center on Sligh Avenue in Tampa. Commissioners closed the floor at 10 p.m.

Many of the public who took the chance to speak said the tax should be put to a popular vote in November. Others opposed the tax entirely.

Ultimately, commissioners decided to put the sales tax on the November ballot.

Light rail in Hillsborough County

Part of the one-cent tax, if passed in November, would fund a light rail to be built in Hillsborough county. Initially, it would probably have two corridors.

“For the moment, yes, we’re looking at the red line, USF to Bruce B. Downs/Downtown, and then the portion of the blue line would take you into Westshore and just connect to the outside of the airport by one mile,” said David Armijo with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit.

That puts the airport in reach of rail.

“All your long term parking is almost walking distance from there,” said Armijo.

Shuttles would take people to the terminals with plans to add a rail line through the airport down the road.

The problem is deciding which corridor of the light rail system to build first.

“I think the ridership numbers are what’s going to drive it,” said

Ray Chiaramonte with Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

During peak hours there is a steady flow of traffic at the airport and that’s why planners say when it comes to light rail ridership, the airport has so much potential.

“I could picture a traveler coming off of TIA and either going to hotels in Westshore or downtown to a convention, to USF for medical treatment,” said Chiaramonte.

Planners say if the county can show that a lot of people would use the airport route, it could help the entire project receive federal funding.

HART is waiting on the results of a study to figure out how to move forward.

“Which is the best project that we can advance or do we link the two projects together,” said Armijo. “That’s still under consideration.”

Link

October Transit Update

I know I said before that I wouldn’t make another post til December. But there have been many developments on the transit front here in Tampa Bay that I should quickly point out.

HART System: All of the new 29XX Gillig Low Floor 40ft buses are in service since October 1, 2009. Many of these buses are seen runing express routes, as well as higher frequency local routes. The next batch of 29 Gilligs will come in sometime in Spring 2010, replacing all but one (#2015) of the 2000 model Gillig Low Floor 30ft buses and most of the Champion/Freightliner buses that HART purchased in 2008. HART will enact several route changes on November 8, including the reallignment of Routes 1 & 2, the merger of Routes 33 & 83, and the extension/revision of Route 36 towards Lutz. Additionally, there will be frequency changes to Routes 15 & 37, with a reduction of off peak hours to 60 minute frequency, and the increase of peak hour frequency to 30 minutes. The HARTflex system will not go into motion until March or April 2010 and construction of the TECOline Streetcar Extension began on October 9, with completion slated for 2011. The future TIA Transfer Center is currently in the planning stages, with construction to begin in mid 2010.

Intercounty Express Service to Expand: PSTA is currently exploring an expansion of Express Routes, including one towards the WestShore area. Not much details at the moment. However, a source tells me that Sarasota Transit (SCAT) is planning two intercounty express routes to be operational by mid 2010. One route will connect Sarasota/Bradenton with downtown St. Pete, and the other will connect Sarasota/Bradenton to downtown Tampa. Fares and schedules are yet to be determined, but my undertanding is that this will be a peak hour service with morning trips leaving Sarasota and afternoon trips going to Sarasota.

MCAT Introduces new hybrid buses: MCAT recently purchased a fleet of 40-foot Gillig BRT Hybrid Drive buses, which are being used on busier routes, such as the Route 99 Connector. Check out some of the photos posted by transitrider!

High Speed Rail looking dim… At least in Florida anyway. I find it really dumb that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood “demanded” that SunRail be passed or else HSR funds won’t come to Florida. Come on! SunRail is flawed as it is, and attaching an “ultimatum” for HSR funds isn’t going to help…

You can now contact me through email at hartride2012tampa@gmail.com

BIG CHANGES COMING SOON! Something big is happening in December, stay tuned for those…

Is it really "all aboard" for HSR in Florida

During the past few months, the Obama Administration has been closely examining areas that may be eligible for a High Speed Rail line. Florida continues to be one of them, but we are about in the same line as California at the moment.

So far, the Miami Chamber of Commerce has embraced the idea of HSR in our state…

Miami chamber all aboard plan for intrastate rail
August 3, 2009

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has embraced the notion of building a high-speed rail line to link Miami and Tampa via Orlando.
The chamber has joined with business group partners in Tampa and Central Florida to endorse Florida’s recent announcement that it will seek a share of $8 billion the Obama administration is offering for high-speed rail development.
The Florida Department of Transportation said it wants $2.5 billion to build the Tampa-Orlando segment and about $30 million to advance the Orlando-Miami leg.
“The project would significantly enhance the vitality, quality of life and economic development of Florida,” according to a Miami Chamber statement issued last week. The group passed a resolution supporting “the design, construction and implementation of the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail System.”
The federal government plans to begin awarding grants before year’s end.

— ALFONSO CHARDY

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/miami-dade/story/1168836.html

However, much has yet to be settled in Polk County…

High-Speed Rail Wants County’s Backing
State DOT seeks panel’s support for Tampa to Orlando route.

By Tom PalmerTHE LEDGER
Published: Friday, July 31, 2009 at 12:01 a.m. Last Modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 1:16 a.m.

BARTOW Local officials are poised to consider a resolution to support the Florida Department of Transportation’s application for money to build the first leg of the Florida High Speed Rail Program, the Polk County Commission was told Friday.AC
The action will be a resolution that is scheduled to be adopted at the Aug. 13 meeting of the Transportation Planning Organization, a panel composed of local elected officials that reviews transportation projects.
Jennifer Stults, the county’s long-term planning director, said the action is being taken at DOT’s request to support the agency’s application for $2.5 billion to construct the link between Tampa and Orlando. The application is due by Oct. 2, she said.
The application is part of $8 billion in federal stimulus money that is available nationwide.
If DOT receives the money it seeks, construction could begin by 2011 and could be completed by 2013, Stults said.
The project includes a station in Polk County, but the exact location has not been determined.
Stults said two possible locations are at Kathleen Road and at USF Polytechnic.
Commissioner Ed Smith asked whether U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, is supporting this project or the SunRail project, the Orlando commuter rail.
Stults said Mica is supporting both projects, explaining the federal money for the projects comes from different programs.
Smith asked about the next phase from Orlando to Miami and whether it would connect to the Tri-Rail commuter system there.
The planning details for that portion of the project are still under development, Stults said.

[ Tom Palmer can be reached at tom.palmer@theledger.com or 863-802-7535. ]

http://www.theledger.com/article/20090731/NEWS/908015011/1134?Title=High-Speed-Rail-Wants-County-s-Backing

However, in a general perspective, Florida seems to be ahead of California, being that we did approve (then later rejected) a consitutional amendment. Also, Florida’s plan is the furthest along than any other plan on the table.

Florida Ahead of the Curve on High Speed Rail?
News Service of Florida – Jul 17th, 2009

Florida may be poised to be the first stop for President Barack Obama’s vision of high speed rail connecting major U.S. cities, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos said Thursday at a St. Petersburg Beach transportation summit.
With her department having submitted a pre-application for $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money to build the first leg of a long-discussed Tampa-Orlando-Miami bullet train, Kopelousos said during an address at a three-day Transportation Summit hosted by Floridians for Better Transportation that the traffic signs from Washington, D.C. look good for the Sunshine State.
“If President Obama wants to see dirt turned for high-speed rail, Florida is the leading state,” Kopelousos said.
The Florida high speed rail corridor was one of eight identified by the White House in April for the beginning of a national network. The Tampa-Orlando-Miami route is thought to be a prohibitive favorite for the stimulus money because much of the preliminary surveying had been done when the plan was approved by voters in 2000 and the Florida High Speed Rail Authority was created in 2002.
The high speed rail panel had been parked since 2005, after voters put the brakes on the plans for the bullet train after a push by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who said the state could not afford it. However, buoyed again this year by the possibility of receiving the stimulus money – without a requirement for matching funds from the state – the train talk has picked up speed this year.
But Kopelousos’ optimism about Florida’s prospects for high speed on Thursday were countered in an interview with the News Service of Florida by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who said the DOT’s stimulus application’s chance for success could be harmed by two others that accompanied it. Dockery said the other applications were not truly high-speed rail, which the stimulus set aside $8 billion for.
“It would seem like if they were serious about high speed rail, they would have done just that project and put all their eggs in one basket,” Dockery said. “They’re watering down their effort by putting in other projects that are not even related.”
The DOT submitted an application for $432 million for the controversial proposed SunRail Orlando commuter train alongside the application for construction of the Tampa-Orlando leg of the bullet train and a request for $70 million for “incremental” passenger service between Jacksonville and Miami that would operated by Amtrak.
If the high speed rail application is approved, Gov. Charlie Crist’s stimulus advisor Don Winstead told reporters this week that the money will also be used for engineering and environmental work for the Orlando-Miami portion of the line. However, Winstead disagreed with Dockery’s assessment that the other application would harm the high speed rail request, saying the requests were appropriately separated.

http://www.jaxobserver.com/2009/07/17/florida-ahead-of-the-curve-on-high-speed-rail/

The question still remains though, will Florida win the bid? One large problem continues to be an inefficiency of mass transit connections in both Tampa and Orlando. California has such connections in place, with plans for more in the future. That element alone increases the chances of California winning the bid, rather than Florida. Unless, we can set the political squabbling aside and properly plan these connections, Florida’s bid for HSR will indeed be lost…

Orlando’s SunRail pretty much at a standstill…

If you haven’t heard all the controversy surrounding Orlando’s commuter rail system, SunRail, then you’re in for some good news and some very (devastating) bad news.

First, an overview. Planning for SunRail started many years ago, but previous attempts to get it through the Florida congress have proved to be unsuccessful. One reason being is that the commuter trains will run along the same corridors as CSX freight trains. This brings up a major liability issue between CSX and the state, which to this day, has not been resolved.

Next, the good news, in this Bay News 9 article, SunRail just managed to pass a senate committee 4-3, which would bring the plan closer to reality. Great news right?!

Wrong, here’s the (devastating) bad news. Florida’s massive budget crisis, coupled with the global recession, is threatening to derail SunRail indefinitely. If state congress has its way and ends up cutting out a huge chunk from a transportation trust fund, then the implications could be severe, possibly delaying SunRail for as much as 5 to 10 years!

Now why do I mention SunRail if it has nothing to do with Tampa Bay? Well, in reality, this pivotal moment will likely affect every single rail project and entity that is either currently in operation or is being planned. Such an example is Miami’s Tri-Rail system. It brings many passengers in southeast Florida to their destinations each day, but the state budget is threatening to pull that system off ts tracks as well. With this transportation trust fund a lot smaller and other sources of revenue cut off as well, Tri-Rail can’t possibly earn the amount of funding it needs to continue operating. Additionally, believe it or not, this cut in the trust fund could also mean a possible delay for Tampa’s light rail system, if such funds are being sought out, not to mention many roadway projects that will have to be shelved.

In other news…

It looks like that the high speed rail dreams for Florida aren’t totally lost….again. As the plans from the $8 billion dollars in stimulus funds set out for HSR become more detailed, it looks like that the first batch of grants will be going out later this year. Will Florida be on the list? We’re not sure yet. But for now, it seems that those bullet trains are one step closer to running here in our sunny state.

High Speed Rail could be doomed…..again….

I was truly hoping that the federal stimulus would be able to bring high speed rail, or at least something close to it, to Florida. Unfortunately, this article from the Lakeland Ledger pretty much sums up the gloomy future….

Story Link

In other words, high speed rail in Florida is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN, and not by a long shot. If Florida gets ANY funding towards rail from the stimulus, the best thing that could happen is a shared passenger rail line from Tampa to Orlando, and maybe down to Miami. That’s right, just the same ol’ rail line that is currently used by CSX, which then brings up the liability issue and yada, yada. So in conclusion, we’re back to square one….hoping that Pam Iorio will be able to bring light rail to Tampa to alas, spark passenger rail transit in Florida.

Could Orlando/Tampa high speed rail link be built after all?

Oh the joys of the early 2000s, when Florida voters enacted a law for the construction of a high-speed bullet train that would travel up the I-4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando. But then, when the voters realized how expensive the project would be, AFTER THE FACT, they voted to repeal it. Since then, the project has been practically dead right?

WRONG. Due to money set aside for such rail projects by the recently passed stimulus package, it seems that Florida is pushing to get the project on the list of projects ready to go.

From the Tampa Tribune

Story Link

By RICH SHOPES | The Tampa Tribune

Published: February 19, 2009

TAMPA – High-speed rail looked dead four years ago, but backers of the proposal say it’s being resuscitated now thanks to the recently approved federal stimulus package.

“This is unbelievable,” said Lee Chira, chairman of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority.

The group hadn’t met since voters in November 2004 opposed granting state taxes to the project – the first leg of which would have connected Orlando and Tampa for $2 billion.

Now the authority is hopeful it could get some of the $8 billion recently set aside for high-speed rail projects nationwide.

“We’re 90 percent sure we’ll get it because the president said he is looking for communities and authorities that have shovel-ready projects,” Chira said. “We’re farther along than anybody.”

The authority sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration on Jan. 27 expressing interest in the funds and has scheduled a meeting Feb. 26 in Orlando to discuss what to do next.

By mid-September, the authority must have its formal application submitted to the FTA.

The project’s first leg from Orlando International Airport to Tampa was expected to cost $2 billion and include stops at downtown Orlando, Disney World and Lakeland.

The federal government issued environmental permits that would need to be updated, and several years ago granted permission to access the Interstate 4 median for the project, Chira said.

Orlando would become a hub for later extensions to Miami and Jacksonvillle.

“We could be under construction in 12 to 18 months,” Chira said _ if the project receives funding.
After that it could be three to four years before trains are running. They would travel up to 120 mph.