CL speaks to the FTA's Peter Rogoff as TECO Line Streetcar System extends to downtown Tampa

PR: You can get transit oriented development with BRT and we've seen it work successfully in places like Springfield and Eugene, Oregon and elsewhere.  I think importantly it's how you design it.  It's probably fair to say you get more development when you do a light rail line because investors have the confidence that the rail route isn't going to change, whereas a bus route could change.  When you look at a lot of Bus Rapid Transit options that are out there now, they are very sophisticated, they have signal priority so the bus almost never gets a red light, you've got designated rights-of-way that can be done very aesthetically, and they can become a magnet for development just like rail does.

CL: You know that there's been this wave of opposition to high-speed-rail that seems to be gaining momentum.  President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union Address, some people say it's being overemphasized.  Do you believe in the transforming nature of what high speed rail can do for this country as people say it has in other countries?

PR: Well, first of all, I head up the Federal Transit Administration, not the Federal Railroad Administration.  The high speed rail program is under their jurisdiction.  All I can really say is that the President clearly wants to move forward with high speed rail, and in Florida.  It's been talked about in Florida for decades.  I remember my first job in government in the late 80's, when Senator Lawton Chiles headed a subcommittee that I worked on in the appropriations committee in the Senate.  High speed rail was being talked about in Florida back then.  One of the things that's been observed about Florida is that it has very big densities on cities that really would benefit from being connected, and it has serious limitations on how much you can expand the highway network.  That makes it uniquely situated for high speed rail.  The Obama administration wants to move forward and we are going to move forward, and we look forward to partnering with the state to do it.

CL: Getting back to the situation at hand today.  There are other trolley systems like this around the country.  Are they successful?

PR: They are, and importantly they're really making a comeback.  A lot of these streetcar systems were abandoned back in the 30's, 40's and 50's and replaced either with bus service or rail service, or just cars. What you see now is (garbled tape).  Why not giving people the fastest transportation system, they are giving people the ability to move from their apartment to shopping throughout the community to reconnect residential areas with downtown, and they become very significant economic engines.  If you look at this corridor alone, there's been $1.2 billion of investment in the corridor along this streetcar route, and it's shorter than 3 miles.  That's really notable.  When you look at the condo's that have gone up, the retail and the hotels that have gone up, when you consider that Tampa as a destination for a lot of festivals, like the one they just had this weekend (Gasparilla), they had (hundreds of) thousands people here.  They believe they reached ridership of 20,000 people during the Gasparilla festival over the weekend.  And from what I've heard, a lot of those people we don't want driving on the road. So if we can give them an enticing option that connects them to their hotel to the restaurants and the festivities, and not have them on the road, and not burning gasoline that's going up for $4? it's all good.

Peter M. Rogoff has served as Federal Transit Administrator since May of 2009.  Previously, he served for 22 years on the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, including 14 years as the Democratic Staff Director of its Transportation Subcommittee.  Rogoff was in Tampa this past Monday, where he gave the keynote address at the official groundbreaking event for the newest extension of the Trolley Rail car in downtown Tampa.

Before the festivities began, CL spoke with Rogoff for a few moments.  Here is our question and answer exchange:

CL: We saw some comments you made last year regarding BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) service, and how you believe in some cases it can be superior for a local region as compared to a light rail system. There's been a ot more talk about BRT since the transit tax in Hillsborough County that would have funded the beginning of a light rail system lost last November.  Your thoughts?

PR: Each community needs to decide what's the right mix for their unique circumstances, what their transportation needs are, and what their budget will allow.  What I said in that speech is that more communities sometimes want to launch a rail service, but may not have the money necessarily to invest in it, and adequately maintain it.  Bus rapid transit is a very capable and affordable option.  Really, communities need to define their needs and choose their own mix, and the Obama administration is willing to partner with them when they come forward and decide what mix works for them.

CL: They're actually was a question of BRT and light rail here with our transit agency, HART, right up until the measure went on the ballot last fall.  One reason that rail was favored was because it presented more Transit Oriented Development (TOD) potential.  You can't really get that with BRT as you can with rail, right?

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