Concern about lack of specifics in Hillsborough light rail measure intensifies

When Hillsborough County voters go to the polls on November 2 to vote on the transit tax referendum, the specifics of where the first rail line routes would go will not be known.

That has been known for a while now, but only apparently after the St. Pete Times' Janet Zink crystallized that fact last Saturday has it become another obstacle for advocates trying to get the measure passed.

Former Tampa Congressman Jim Davis, now working with Moving Hillsborough Forward, the group pushing for the one-cent sales referendum that would fund the transportation measure (which would also fund increased bus service and improve roads) said on WMNF radio last month that there would not be specific routes in place when voters went to the polls.

But only as the measure gets closer and closer are citizens starting to pay attention, which is why Ron Rotella from the Westshore Business Alliance asked the Hillsborough Area Transit Agency (HART) on Monday if the community wouldn't know until after they went to the polls what would be the preferred first route.

He was told by HART's David Armijo that not until mid-November would the HART board have sufficient information to decide that.  After Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Rose Ferlita expressed concerns, Armijo said unenthusiastically that the timetable might be speeded up.

The Tampa Tribune's Ted Jackovics is reporting that Armijo now says that there will be more specifics, such as whether the specific routes in question will be served by light rail rather than bus rapid transit (BRT).  The Trib also reports that the costs of those routes will be known to the public by November 2.

The St. Pete Times editorial page weighs in as well this morning on those specifics (the headline online "Hillsborough rail planning gets off track" incidentally is discarded in the print version for "Get county transit plan on track").

In the editorial, the Times writes that:

Having no alignment does more than give ammunition to rail opponents. It blemishes what has otherwise been an orderly and deliberative political process of putting the referendum on the ballot. Over the past three years, county officials have mapped out the area's transportation needs and a plan for meeting them. The county and its cities have agreed on how to finance and manage the projects, and how to share the tax money. Hillsborough also has a plan to integrate its new roads and rail with similar projects in the future in counties across the Tampa Bay area.

Another interesting factor in all of this has been the integration of a proposed route out to Tampa International Airport, which seems to be a surefire crowd pleaser, though there aren't many specifics to report on that just yet (the HART board just decided officially last month to study that).

Meanwhile, one of the most prominent elected official to champion the proposal, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, is being challenged next week by Josh Burgin in a Republican primary based almost exclusively on this single issue.

Today, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, Alex Snitker, has scheduled a news conference at 10 a.m. at which he will endorse Burgin, as well as announce his opposition to the transit tax.  He is scheduled to be joined by Doug Guetzloe from the Orlando-based anti-taxation group Ax the Tax, which has spent tens of thousands of dollars for a television ad targeting Sharpe for his support of the transportation referendum.

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