TBARTA spells 'train wreck' to informed citizens

Ever since opponents of the Green Swath of Death [plans by local expressway officials to build a four-county beltway road through eastern Hillsborough County] thought we had at least mortally wounded if not killed the beast, many of us still worried what TBARTA might be capable of doing. Considering that TBARTA was born of the the Tampa Bay Partnership, which has been pushing this bypass for years, we suspected at first chance the Green Swath might indeed be resurrected.

Our worst fears were realized when several citizens attended a recent TBARTA workshop in Hillsborough. On Map 8 Hillsborough Connections there she was. This version is two separate pieces but appears to plow through the very same preservation and rural lands as the last ill-conceived "corridor" did but it is hard to tell since the map is vague and outdated.

Another interesting note is a red dot that appears as the Swath makes a sharp easterly turn, a dot that is listed as a "major employer." Who is employed there, I wonder … a park ranger? The best I can tell that dot is in the middle of nature preserve. You can see how similar TBARTA's path is to the much maligned South County Transportation Plan's route was last year.

Could TBARTA really have been dumb enough not to have know the opposition to this road late last year? Many people doubt it. They had to have known. From last October to this past January, opponents had the Green Swath removed from every map it ever thought about making it's home on including the transportation element of the EAR amendments, the South County Transportation Plan (which was pulled completely due to the massive opposition and public deception regarding the Swath) and the MPO Needs Assessment Map. That tells me that TBARTA either did not do its homework or just didn't care.

Shouldn't our elected officials and representatives on TBARTA have conveyed the message about the Swath? I think so. So is this just another case of poor leadership in Hillsborough or is this something even more sinister considering the tricks citizens have endured before regarding this Swath. Ken Hagan is the representative from the county commission and the staff representative is Ned Baier, who has been the target of civic complaints about the Green Swath.

You can contact Commissioner Hagan at [email protected] and Mr. Baier at [email protected]. I did. I never heard from Commissioner Hagan but I did hear back from Mr. Baier. I also heard back from an e-mail to Commissioner Mark Sharpe through his aide, and he told me that he had spoken to Mr. Baier and was told TBARTA was aware of past concerns and they were not using an "old" plan. They were looking at transit possibilities to include rail, expressways, BRT, etc and they were working with FDOT. He also suggested I contact Elba Lopez of FDOT which I did … and I am still dizzy from the circles she talked in truly avoiding a solid answer to almost all of my questions … for example:

What year and make was the map you used?

Answer: Well, it was a modeling process.

Question: So you didn't use a current map?

Answer: It was a modeling process for transit.

I could fill the entire page with these types of not-so-useful answers. I encourage you to call her and see if you can do better. FDOT's number is 813-975-6000 ask for Elba Lopez. Good Luck.

While TBARTA might be crying poor when it comes to rail and maybe even asking you to vote on financing it, when it comes to toll roads I suspect they will have plenty of developers … errr … I mean investors willing to pony up the cash. Here would be where the public-private partnerships would come in handy. The reason informed citizens are so opposed to this Swath is because it is clearly not about transportation; it is about opening up land outside the Urban Service boundary to sprawl.

Finally, could they really have been dumb enough to have left it GREEN? Yep! Opponents had Planning Commissioners, MPO members and the papers alike calling the route the GREEN SWATH of DEATH last year and Wayne Garcia even used it for the title of his article Green Swath of Death.

So you might think, well, go out and be activists and let your voice be heard (AGAIN) and yes, that is a great idea except it doesn't appear that they are listening. Many people attending the meetings say the usual suspects of big $$$ developer interests are there stuffing the comment boxes. How does the average citizen compete with that and how would most people even know what TBARTA is? Citizens feel they are losing what little voice they have in the county and question how local voices be heard on a regional level? See Mariella Smith's post as well as the comments on Sticks of Fire.

TBARTA ,to many of its proponents, seems to be the Great Rail Hope, and many seem more than willing to overlook its obvious shortcomings if they deliver that dream of rail. If our county does not toe the line (the urban service line that is) and maximize densities within the urban service area, that little rail dream will most likely become a financial nightmare. Is TBARTA truly about delivering rail or is this about development? Read Mr. Jones (who is on the "citizens" advisory committee to TBARTA) recent commentary in the Tribune's Bay Area Must Move On Its Transit Future. Note that this "citizen" is also the Vice President of Operations at Newland Communities, which you might recognize as Fishhawk and other massive developments around the area. Do you think he represents "citizens?" Common sense tells you we need transit solutions where people ALREADY live, not out in rural areas and through preserved lands.

Handing our transportation planning over to a regional authority to create allows local politicians to evade the heat on unpopular decisions such as toll roads and that goes for our land use decisions as well. The county has proposed to have ONE BAY (also spawned by The Partnership) take the lead in a Visioning Project, which would combine land use and transportation. Combining land use with transportation sounds good on the surface, but letting a public private partnership drive this diminishes what little role citizens have and puts this into the very hands of those who would profit from it.

I think a more objective route would be to have our land use and transportation planned by our Planning Commission and MPO (because that is what they are set up and trained to do) and hold our elected officials accountable for our growth plan. We can then use agencies like TBARTA to implement rather than create our plan.

What can you do? Make noise and a lot of it. TBARTA just held one round of workshops and they are promising more. This isn't just about the psuedo-Green Swath of Death; they will have maps of all of their ideas throughout the region. Take a look at what might be planned in your neighborhood and tell them if you agree with it or not and give them your ideas. Will your voice carry equal weight with a developer's voice? You might want to bring along 10 neighbors with you just in case. Or ask TBARTA to have a meeting in your neighborhood to discuss your concerns and leave them your comments online. You can access their website at www.tbarta.com

Interesting to note that on TBARTA's home page had a map without the new and improved 2 headed green/purple swath of death on it. It says click here for the latest map so I did and again NO SWATH. I got very excited and put the word out that they must have just removed it. My fellow NIMBYS informed me that I had to go to the top of the website and click on Master Plan to see the Swath. Nice game of hide and seek.

(Since this was written, the green swath map has been removed entirely. TBARTA says it is updating all its proposed master plan maps.)

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