Transit troubles

The new authority might not make it

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Three weeks ago, Stu Rogel was sitting on top of the world.

The executive director of the Tampa Bay Partnership had completed a year-long push to create a regional transit authority that could take the lead in solving Tampa Bay's long-term transportation problems and create workable mass transit.

The bill passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support and a separate $1 million seed-money line item that would provide minimal staff for the first year.

But like so many transit dreams in this area, the new authority is coming off the rails before it's even out of the station.

Late last week, Gov. Charlie Crist shocked Rogel and other local leaders and vetoed the $1 million appropriation. It was part of a record $460 million in appropriation cuts, and one of two new transportation authorities whose funding was axed (the other was in the Panama City area).

Tampa Bay officials thought they had Crist's support, and his veto was such a surprise that it led the private business advocacy group to send out an e-mail blast urging members to contact Crist so he won't reject the legislation creating the new authority, as well.

"Given its unanimous support throughout the legislative process, we don't understand why Governor Crist chose to veto funding for this important regional effort," Rogel wrote to supporters. "We trust that Governor Crist will sign the policy bill establishing the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. This Authority is the critical mechanism we need to move forward in solving our regional mobility needs."

Rogel said three weeks ago that he hoped the bill's requirements for a quick launch for the authority would give it impetus and not allow it to bog down into just another bureaucratic agency. Regional transit board appointments were supposed to occur within 60 days, with meetings shortly after that.

"We wanted to get a fast start on things," Rogel said.

Now, that fast track is slowed considerably, and the fate of the entire idea rests on the point of Crist's pen.

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