By Sharon Calvert
The Tampa Bay rail cartel is back, with their media accomplices attached.
And this time it is for regional power and regional taxing.
Our skepticism of the $1.3 million taxpayer funded Go Hillsborough campaign was right on. We speculated it would end up with another unnecessary sales tax hike that included costly rail and it did.
The AEComm report, paid for by Hillsborough County in 2014, clearly stated Hillsborough does not have the transit ridership, the densities or the cost per trip requirements to meet the federal criteria to receive federal funds for fixed guideways. This is why the report was hidden and whitewashed by the County and by our local media because AEComm recommended (highlight is mine):
Initial transit investment should be in a travel corridor with the potential to generate very high transit ridership at a very low start-up cost to improve the project’s cost effectiveness and increasing the probability of obtaining federal funding support.
The prospect of a network of managed lanes within the Tampa Bay region provides an extremely attractive opportunity to provide high quality, higher speed Rapid Bus or Enhanced Bus on managed lane services to address regional travel and longer distance commuting markets. (aka FDOT’s TBX project that has been delayed and Phase 1 funded by gas taxes we already pay).
Hillsborough County should approach making transit investments cautiously and prudently.
Even after voters soundly defeated the rail tax in 2010 and after the AEComm report, Go Hillsborough ignored the will of the voters and proposed another 30 year sales tax hike to pay for costly rail and fixed guideways. Why? Because some politicos, entrenched bureaucrats and special interests eyeing another big pot of tax dollars wanted it.
Even after Greenlight Pinellas was soundly defeated in 2014 and Go Hillsborough dumped last year, they are at it again with the $1.5 million taxpayer funded Regional Premium Transit Campaign currently underway. This time it is Go Hillsborough/Greenlight Pinellas on steroids – a regionalized campaign effort to sell another YUUGGE sales tax hike and this time it will be regional.
And the new regional transit authority board will be run by almost all electeds – another mismanaged PSTA on steroids…
How do we know this latest effort is about higher taxes in Tampa Bay?
Because Jacobs Engineering, the same consultant who did Greenlight Pinellas and was a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff on Go Hillsborough, told us in their presentation responding to the RFP to get the campaign work. Their presentation slide below reflects their arrogant attitude – we are just too stupid for not wanting to raise our taxes to pay for boondoggles. This slide insults our intelligence and should have disqualified Jacobs.
How else do we know?
Because it will take massive regional taxing to fund the regional transit projects we expect to pop out of this latest campaign – the CSX corridor and other costly rail/fixed guideway projects.
Jacobs’ website for the regional transit campaign is here which clearly states the federal FTA is the primary audience. Information about their evaluation plan found here clearly states the need for local financial commitment. The map below that reflects projects Jacobs says they are considering is full of rail projects.
With federal money for transit projects drying up, we seriously doubt our state legislators will allow another SunRail disaster to occur. The state way over paid for CSX tracks in Central Florida and the local municipalities still do not have a committed long term funding source. We doubt the state will pick up the big tab to cover what federal grants were previously covering.
That is why special interests Tampa Bay Partnership created Latvala’s bill who hastily filed it before the session started. It forces taxpayers to fund another transit agency in Tampa Bay. This new regional transit authority will enable regional power an arms length away from voters and taxpayers, and provide the trigger for regional taxing. This is the genesis of the cabal’s plot for a regional takeover.
Latvala’s bill must be stopped because regional transit authorities are how most, if not all, of the rail boondoggles across the country were pushed through. These regional transit authorities, especially over time, become powerful, arrogant and wasteful. Regional transit authorities empower deep pocketed special interests who then launch massive multi-million dollar campaigns for higher taxes. These regional entities often end up reeking of cronyism and corruption – a post for another day.
A recent TBBJ article also confirms the Regional Premium Transit campaign is ignoring the will of the voters who have consistently rejected rail boondoggles. A subscription is required to access the article online so we included the entire article below.
Transit engineers to announce priority Tampa Bay corridors this week
The engineering firm responsible for targeting Tampa Bay area transit priorities as part of a state-funded process will announce this week five corridors it has identified as top attractors for federal funding. The announcement will serve as the first major step toward identifying a regional transit solution and pave the way for the next step, which is determining the mode of transit that will work best.
Transit in the Tampa Bay region has been so far left behind that a group of top-level CEOs came together with $50,000 each to recreate the Tampa Bay Partnership with a sole emphasis on transit improvements.
The Florida Department of Transportation is funding the regional transit feasibility study through the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, aimed at honing transit across municipal boundaries rather than a piecemeal approach by county. Experts will evaluate more than 60 transit plans, most of which were never brought to fruition, to establish priorities.
“The Tampa Bay area hasn’t been very good at that,” said Scott Pringle, a group director with Jacobs Engineering, the company conducting the transit study.
The announcement is likely to include connections between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
One of the studies Jacobs Engineering (NYSE: JEC) employees are looking at is the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas plan that would have created a passenger rail line connecting downtown St. Pete, mid-Pinellas County in the Carillon area and downtown Clearwater. Voters rejected the one-penny sales tax increase to fund the measure. While the corridor will be a key step in improving transit throughout the region, identifying a mode is likely to be more controversial. Transit critics have historically blasted the idea of light rail projects as being too costly and outdated.
Pringle rejects the notion that rail is an outdated means of moving people. “A lot of steel wheel solutions move a lot of people really fast,” Pringle said. “So if that’s what your corridor needs then it makes sense.”
Engineers will study the makeup of the targeted transit corridor next to establish patterns like how many people travel portions of it and how often. That can help planners decide where to put stops and how frequently to service routes.
Solutions could range anywhere from increasing bus service to using autonomous vehicles.
Knowing where transit service would work best could also increase the odds of receiving federal funding by showing the chosen transit mode will help connect people who don’t own cars to job centers. Pringle said that’s like “extra credit” for attracting federal dollars.
While transit planners are quick to celebrate the study as a major step toward increasing regional transit options, there will always be the question of funding.
Those who have worked for years to block transit spending often decry it as a waste of money, a notion Pringle and other transit supporters reject.
“It’s a critical part of our infrastructure to grow jobs and attract people,” Pringle said. “There aren’t really roadways that pay for themselves either.”
Scott Pringle is out of touch with reality. Costly rail is outdated except for the densest population areas like NYC. Tampa Bay does not have the densities for rail and the AEComm report that Hillsborough County tried to bury in 2014 confirmed that. Our roads are very highly utilized assets used by 98% of us everyday. Highly utilized assets reduces the cost per trip that increases the value of its use.
With getting federal money for new transit projects anytime soon becoming a pipe dream, what is their Plan B? State and local funding…..
That’s why regional taxing will be required to fund the costly transit projects we speculate again will pop out of this latest taxpayer funded transit campaign.
And the regional taxing is gonna be YUUGGE!
(Reprinted with permission from Eye on Tampa Bay)