Special Report: Light Rail At USF Possible?

TAMPA – The popular saying is that Floridians love their cars.

But a lot of the conversation occurring lately in the Tampa Bay region has surrounded the prospect of building light rail lines in several locations in the region.

With $1.25 billion in federal funding promised to Florida for a high-speed rail corridor by 2015 between Orlando and Tampa, proponents of light rail are lobbying for passage of a 1-cent sales tax increase in Hillsborough County to help fund transportation projects, including light rail.

The Nov. 2 referendum on the sales tax increase calls for carving up the additional revenue to help pay for road improvements, bus service enhancements and light rail. Light rail would connect population centers with the downtown stops of its high-speed cousin.

Under consideration are light rail stops for Busch Gardens, the University of South Florida Tampa campus, south Tampa and West Shore.

On Wednesday, July 14, USF hosted a “University Area Transportation Summit” presented by Moving Hillsborough Forward at University Research Park. About 50 people turned out for the event. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis called the transit referendum one of the most important votes Hillsborough County residents will cast this fall. Approving the referendum will not only result in improved transportation throughout the county, they said, but will create thousands of new jobs and stimulate new business and community around light rail hubs.

"This will unite our community in ways I've never seen before," said Davis.

Below are links to state and local organizations involved in transportation and light rail initiatives, along with local media articles written about the transportation debate.

Resource Organizations:

Florida Department of Transportation: The state department covers all aspects of transportation within Florida, and has a section devoted to rail projects. There is also a section that explores federal stimulus projects, including the high-speed rail project connecting Orlando and Tampa.


Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority: Oversees public transportation within the county. HART is conducting an “alternative analysis” project to assess improving transit service in the county’s northeast and west corridors.


Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO): This organization is charged with developing a comprehensive transportation planning process for the county. This includes a 2015 plan the reviews transportation options from rail to bike paths.


Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority: Created by the state legislature in 2007, the group is developing a regional transportation plan for the seven-county West Central Florida transportation corridor. There is a section on the website that reviews the master plan.


Moving Hillsborough Forward: A grassroots coalition dedicated to improving commuter opportunities in the county. It supports the Nov. 2 sales tax increase referendum.




Local Media Coverage and Documents:


USF.edu News:


Oct. 20, 2010: Greenstock Sustainability Event. The USF Student Environmental Association sponsored the event to bring attention to the Hillsborough County transportation referendum.


Oct. 21, 2010: USF Students Support Transportation Referendum. In a straw poll conducted on campus, USF students supported the initiative 45 percent to 23 percent.


Sept. 8, 2010: Designing at the Speed of Light (Rail): Each year the University of South Florida School of Architecture and Community Design hosts a competition for students to build a project in a short time period. This year students were asked to design light rail stops for various locations throughout Hillsborough County.

Sept. 13, 2010: Light Rail Project Winners Selected: The work of students at the University of South Florida School of Architecture and Community Design will be on display at community meetings on the transportation referendum conducted by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit.


USF Board of Trustees: Read the March 18, 2010 resolution in support of improved transit and rail projects in the region and state.

The USF Oracle: The student newspaper covers an April 27, 2010 panel discussion on mass transit at the Marshall Student Center.


The Tampa Tribune: A June 7, 2010 article examines how Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio took up the torch in support of light rail during her administration.


The Tampa Tribune: This June 26, 2010 op-ed piece features Tampa lawyer David M. Mechanik, who served on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board, writing on support of the sales tax referendum.


The St. Petersburg Times: The June 24, 2010 article recounts a meeting in New Tampa where several people turned out to voice opposition to the sales tax referendum.


The Tampa Tribune: The Feb. 19, 2010 article looks at a Forbes study that ranks the Tampa Bay area commute as one of the worst in the country.


The St. Petersburg Times: The June 13, 2010 editorial explores the reasons why Pinellas County needs a light rail system.