Monday, November 15, 2010

AA Study to Continue, Other Decisions Still to Come

HART's Alternatives Analysis study is still underway.
What's next?

That's the essence of discussions by the HART Board of Directors during a scheduled meeting this morning at County Center.

For now, the Board agreed its previous direction that HART finish the Alternatives Analysis study is still in effect, and that completing the work is essential to future transit plans.

But some of the decisions to be made in light of the AA study will have to wait for more information and discussion.

"What you've been commissioned to do, you will continue to do until we meet and decide if there would be any changes," Temple Terrace City Councilman and HART Board Chairman Ron Govin commented to the staff.

"The amount of content that has gone into this is amazing. It has been done on a very thorough basis, but there is a need for more time going forward."

Mary Shavalier, who has spearheaded HART's work on the AA, reported on the study's status, and the impact the failure of the referendum would have on the process. As the study wraps up, she said it will be important to show factors besides local funding in the agency's presentation to the FTA, particularly reducing costs and emphasizing opportunities for economic development.

As for any possibility of identifying an alternate source of local funding, Ms. Shavalier said HART has a lot of work to do, and that it would require many discussions by the HART Board and with other community partners.

The work done so far builds upon what's known as the Tampa Rail Plan, the 2002 study that received a federal record of decision, but was shelved due to lack of local funding. Ms. Shavalier showed the Board how the current work has improved the plan dramatically, with enhanced connections for an increased ridership base, service into and through Tampa International Airport, and plans to serve the communities of northwest Hillsborough County, Tampa Palms and New Tampa.

Board members recognized that given the mood of the country, now is the time for prudence.

"We do need to absorb the message - not just local voters, but a state and national message," said Dr. Steven Polzin. "What we thought was a good project a few weeks ago may not be a good project going forward. I want to continue to capture information, but we need to be very careful making decisions right now."

Board member Fran Davin was also circumspect, but urged her colleagues to consider implications for the future.

"Many years ago, another board got to this point, and because of funding constraints it was shelved," she said. "I would hate to think we would come this far and just drop it."

"I agree there needs to be time for reflection and to listen to other voices in the community, but I'm concerned that we waste the investment to date," Ms. Davin continued. "I think we want to be prudent. We should contemplate our next step. If we have to put something on the shelf for a number of years, let's make sure the next group has something they can build from."

After discussion, the Board voted to allow staff to continue work on the AA, and to convene another meeting to talk about next steps and the Board's actions related to the study.

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