Area's rail future needs your input now

The agency charged with assessing the bay area's commuting needs wants your input.

By Times Staff Writer
Published March 9, 2008

When you visualize getting around the Tampa Bay area years from now, where are your Point A and Point B? And what's the most logical connection between them?

Those are the kinds of questions a high-powered group of transportation planners will be asking the public in a series of open houses around the region over the next 10 days.

"Are we connecting the right places?" asks Bob Clifford, a planning director for the Florida Department of Transportation. He's working with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, a group led by elected officials and empowered to someday build a network of commuter trains.

At the open houses, people will be asked to look at maps of the rough plans TBARTA has to improve the region's transportation system. The agency will be sharpening its plans through the rest of this year.

"We're asking the public to let us know, are these corridors where we should consider transportation improvements?" says TBARTA spokeswoman Cindy Sharpe. "We'll ask them, 'Have you considered a rail track here, for example? Have you considered putting something down the middle of I-75?'"

A passenger rail network is many years away at best, but Clifford says the time seems right to make plans for one. Commuting is costing Tampa Bay area residents much more than people in other big cities, and commute times here are increasing.

"There are some places where there aren't going to be any more lanes," he says.


Community workshops

(Each is 5:30-7:30 p.m.)

Monday, Hillsborough County: Hilton Garden Inn, 13305 Tampa Oaks Blvd., Temple Terrace, near I-75 and Fletcher Avenue.

Tuesday, Hernando County: County Courthouse, 20 N Main St., Brooksville.

Wednesday, Citrus County: Lecanto Government Building, Room 166, 3600 W. Sovereign Path, Lecanto.

Thursday, Pinellas County: Holiday Inn Select, 3535 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater, near Roosevelt Boulevard.

Tuesday, March 18, Pasco County: West Pasco Government Center, 7530 Little Road, New Port Richey.