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Price tag on bike path: $25-million

To guarantee a corridor for bikes as well as allow mass transit increases the cost of proposals to widen the boulevard.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002


NEW TAMPA -- It cost $1.5-million to build a bike path in New Tampa. It might cost at least $25-million to keep it.

Widening the corridor along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard enough to guarantee room for a bike path and a mass transit system would cost at least that much, projections show.

Florida Department of Transportation officials recently unveiled three options for an eight-lane Bruce B. Downs. All three include a 10-foot-wide bike path along one side of the road and a 6-foot-wide sidewalk along the other.

The current bike path, constructed in 2000, runs for about 41/2 miles from Tampa Palms to Hunter's Green. The cheapest eight-lane road would cost $65-million. At the request of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, department engineers also designed a corridor that could accommodate a light rail or express bus system.

They presented that $90-million mass transit corridor last week at Wharton High School.

But any one of the three options could accommodate a mass transit system, said Ron Pscion, a project manager with URS Corp., which is advising the state on the road-widening.

Including it in the cheaper option would require running the train tracks or bus lanes where the bike path is now located. The path probably would be destroyed.

Both the $65-million road and the $90-million road would carry the same number of cars. The $25-million difference is the price of acquiring enough land to keep both a bike path and mass transit lanes, said Ming Gao, project manager for the Florida Department of Transportation.

"Options cost," he said.

Some people question whether it makes sense to plan for rail when it might never happen. Local lawmakers have discussed the possibility of a light-rail system for at least two decades.

The MPO's current transportation plan assumes construction of a light-rail system that will take 20 years to build at a cost of $1.5-billion. But the MPO also assumes a new source of revenue would be found to pay for it.

In addition, as it is currently drawn, the line stops before it even reaches New Tampa. Steve Polzin, transit research program director at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research, said it is hard to make the case that the area could even support a rail stop because so many of its residents rely on cars to zip around their neighborhood.

Is it worth spending an extra $25-million in order to guarantee space for both a bike path and a rail system?

Don Nevins, president of the New Tampa Transportation Task Force, thinks not.

"Rail is a pipe dream," he said.

If, however, transportation officials selected the less expensive $65-million road and concluded that a rail system could be built, safety would be a key issue. Removing the bike path and running train tracks outside traffic on Bruce B. Downs could expose right-turning cars to speeding trains.

"It'd be T-bone alley," said West Meadows resident Mark Hankins, referring to the violent collisions between automobiles and trains.

-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com

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