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Thursday, October 14, 2010

You Have Questions, We Have Answers

Talkin' transit in Tampa Bay.
Last week, we invited you to participate in a transportation-themed Town Call meeting hosted by HART and the Hillsborough County MPO.

And boy did you participate!

The final numbers are in, and total attendees for the evening reached 6,267. To help put that figure in perspective, HART holds a lot of meetings during the year with community organizations, homeowners associations, listening tours and other groups. On average, we'll get together with about 30 to 50 people at these meetings, so it would take about 126 average-sized community group meetings to equal the number we reached at the Town Call event.

HART's CEO, David Armijo, was impressed by the turnout.

"It was invigorating to see that so many people were interested in the subject and wanted to participate, either by listening in or calling in with their questions," Mr. Armijo said. "The input we received was also helpful to us, and the perspective of the public is very energizing."

Panel Talks Transit
The Town Call event, which was moderated by Tampa Bay area radio and TV personality Jack Harris, featured a panel of transportation experts and community leadership that answered callers' questions. Panel memebers were Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner (also a member of the HART and MPO Boards), HART CEO David Armijo and MPO Executive Director Ray Chiaramonte.

During the hourlong meeting, the panel took 20 questions from attendees on the transit tax initiative and the plans to improve transportation in Hillsborough County. Questions ranged from which areas would be served by transit improvements, to local and regional connectivity, to how the citizens' oversight committee would operate.

Callers represented areas across Hillsborough County, with questions coming in from Tampa, Riverview, Plant City and Lutz.

Here's a sampling of some questions that were asked, along with the answers.

Ed in Tampa said that transit improves our general quality of life, but wondered how the plan would integrate parking, buses and rail service for those who might have to drive to a station.

HART's David Armijo reassured Ed that the system will encourage people to walk to the rail stations, and that park-and-ride facilities would be readily available. Mr. Armijo also noted that while it's too soon to talk about specific fares, parking will likely be free (as it is today at HART's current park-and-ride lots), and that a monthly pass will be available for people who ride the bus and rail systems regularly.

Denise in Riverview wanted to know the closest rail point for people in Riverview and Brandon.

Ray Chiaramonte from the MPO let Denise know that there is a future rail line planned that extends to the east part of Brandon, probably along SR 60 although the exact route has not been decided, and that increased express and local bus routes would be coming to Riverview and Brandon.

Jesse in the Dover/Plant City area thought the eastern portion of the county doesn't appear to get any benefit from the tax.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner explained to Jesse that this is a comprehensive plan that includes much more than just the train in Tampa. Commissioner Beckner pointed out that 25% of the revenues will actually go to road projects, including road widening in Plant City, and increased bus service and flex service.

Loretta in Tampa and David in Tampa both asked questions about the high-speed rail system - what's the difference, and how will we connect to it?

Mr. Chiaramonte explained that the November 2 referendum pertains only to Hillsborough County projects - the bus system expansion, roadway projects and light rail system, while the high-speed rail system that will connect Tampa and Orlando is a separate project with separate funding from the federal government. The Hillsborough County tax will not go toward that effort.

Commissioner Beckner also noted that passengers of the high-speed rail system will need a transportation network to get them around while they're here, and that HART's Rapid Transit Investment Plan and the MPO 2035 Plan do just that. The plan calls for 46 miles of light rail, more bus routes and service, bike routes and other road projects to connect people to their final destinations. Commissioner Beckner also explained that our goal is to work with all of the counties in the region to create a system that serves the whole region.

Those are a few of the questions and answers to come out of the Town Call meeting. All in all, it was a great discussion, and a perfect way to talk to our community about this important issue. Thanks to all who participated, and we hope to do it again soon!

To see HART's Rapid Transit Investment plan, click here.

For the MPO's 2035 Plan, click here.

More Transit Q&A
If those questions and answers whet your appetite for more, Creative Loafing's Mitch Perry has a great 20-question Q&A over on their News &Politics blog. Check it out here.

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Comments to this blog are moderated by HART staff. Constructive comments are welcome; any obscene, threatening, or otherwise inappropriate comments will be deleted before posting. Questions about specific service ("is my bus on time?") cannot be answered here, and should be directed to the HARTinfo Line at (813) 254-HART (4278). General questions may be addressed in future posts.