Tuesday, May 30, 2017

We Need our Interstates Fixed but FDOT Takes Only Transit Advocates to St. Louis

As part of FDOT's delay to fixing our interstates and the Howard Frankland Bridge and hitting "reset" on their TBX project, FDOT took a group of people to St. Louis in April for a 2 day "peer exchange" trip. They went to hear how Missouri DOT (MoDOT) dealt with and gained support for a contentious project to rebuild and expand about 10 miles of I-64. The public feared it would create the biggest traffic jam in St. Louis history since that part of the interstate would be closed for two years to complete the project.

We spoke to Linda Wilson Horn of MoDOT who said they have conducted these peer exchanges numerous times before but until this time they were only DOT to DOT. She was very pleasant, explained what they did in St. Louis regarding the I-64 reconstruction project, how the community and those from nearby neighborhoods provided input for how numerous interchanges were being rebuilt. 

The three presentations made by MoDOT to those who FDOT took for this information peer exchange in St. Louis can be found here

We asked FDOT who went on the trip to St. Louis and was provided the list of attendees. Who are some of these people?

FHWA Peer Exchange - April 11-12, 2017 List of Attendees
Total – 36 (28 from Tampa Bay Area) 
1 FHWA-Florida Division
  • Cathy Kendall 
  • Bill Jones
  • Ed McKinney
  • Kirk Bogen
  • Mary Lou Godfrey
  • Xavier Pagan 
5 Consultants
2 Business Community
  • Karen Kress (TDP) -  Transit advocate/Tampa Downtown Partnership is a special interests group who supports higher taxes for transit and wants to expand the bankrupt Streetcar
  • Rick Homans (TBP) - Transit advocate/Tampa Bay Partnership is a special interest group who has led the support in Hillsborough and Pinellas for higher taxes for transit and wrote Latvala's TBARTA bill forcing taxpayers to fund another transit agency in Tampa Bay when transit ridership is declining in Tampa Bay
7 MPO/Local Gov’t
  • Tampa Councilman Harry Cohen - voted last year to keep TBX in MPO's plans            
  • Tampa Councilman Guido Maniscalco - Opposes TBX
  • Pinellas Commissioner John Morroni - Supported Greenlight Pinellas
  • Hillsborough Commissioner Pat Kemp - Transit advocate who opposes TBX
  • Whit Blanton (Forward Pinellas) - Transit adovcate
  • Ray Chiaramonte (TBARTA) - Transit advocate
  • Carla Williams (HART/COMTO) - Transit advocate
10 Citizens (Paid by FHWA)
  • Zachary Thorn (Pinellas) - VP Government Affairs Clearwater Chamber who supported Greenlight Pinellas/transit advocate
  • Brian Scott (Pinellas) - PSTA citizen board member/transit advocate
  • Joe Farrell (Pinellas) - Pinellas Realtors Association Director of Governmental Affairs, transit advocate who was the campaign manager for the defeated Greenlight Pinellas campaign 
  • Kelly Miller (Pasco) - President of Colonial Hills Civic Association in New Port Rickey, Chair of Pasco MPO Citizens Advisory Committee 
  • Rick Fernandez (Hillsborough) - An attorney who is President of Tampa Heights Civic Association, a leader with Sunshine Citizens/StopTBX
  • Dianne Hart (Hillsborough) - CEO of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association
  • Debi Johnson (Hillsborough) -  President of the Old Seminole Heights Association, member of Sunshine Citizens/StopTBX
  • Chris Vela (Hillsborough) -  President of urbanists group Sunshine Citizens who launched StopTBX campaign
  • David Wilson (Hillsborough) - Chair of MPO Citizens Advisory Committee/appointed by Commissioner Hagan, transit supporter
  • Kim Overman (Hillsborough) - recently appointed as a member of MPO Citizens Advisory Committee, President of Heights Urban Core Chamber and a StopTBX advocate who filed 6/13 last year to run against Les Miller and then suddenly withdrew from the race 6/23/2016 the same day Miller voted against TBX at the MPO meeting that day.
  • Ed Hassinger, Chief Engineer
  • Linda Wilson Horn, Public Information Officer
  • Lester Woods, External Civil Rights
  • Greg Horn, St. Louis District Engineer 
2 FHWA Missouri Division
  • Kevin Ward, Division Administrator
  • Dawn Perkins, St. Louis Transportation Engineer
A Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) grant paid for the ten citizens trip. We assume everyone else's trip was paid by their own organization, many by the taxpayers.

We asked FDOT how the 10 citizens were selected and were told this:
Via individual teleconferences, FDOT asked each of the MPO chairs from Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas County to identify candidates for the peer exchange. FHWA requested that the candidates be citizens with a demonstrated interest in transportation. Commissioner Les Miller (Hillsborough MPO) provided six representatives. Commissioner John Morroni (Forward Pinellas) provided three representatives. Mayor Camille Hernandez (Pasco MPO) provided one representative.
We do not know how the consultants or the special interests were invited or who invited them but we can certainly speculate.

What is obvious is that all the citizens, all the special interests, all those from taxpayer funded agencies are all transit advocates. Why did Commissioner Miller from Hillsborough and Commissioner Morroni from Pinellas only select urbanists and transit advocates? So much for diversity - that was simply wrong. FDOT should have ensured a much more diverse group had an opportunity to participate. 

What a lost opportunity for FDOT! 

After the St. Louis trip the urbanists hosted a meeting that FDOT also attended. So what was applauded by the urbanists? Tearing down I-275. According to this Times article
Kimberly Overman, president of the Heights Urban Core Chamber which sponsored Tuesday's community meeting, is cautiously optimistic that FDOT might consider Frank's proposal to demolish I-275.
Overman went to St. Louis and she wants to tear down I-275…..

Tearing down I-275 that today 200,000 vehicles (perhaps a half million people) use everyday is outright extreme. And we're growing in Tampa Bay. Why would FDOT consider such extremism?

Expanding the interstates that are the foundation of our transportation system in Tampa Bay, have been in FDOT's plans for over two decades. Suddenly when money is available to actually implement the improvements, some opposition gets very vocal.

We do not recall their opposition to the last I-275 improvements FDOT made between downtown and Westshore. We do not recall their opposition to the Veterans adding congestion pricing express toll lanes. But they want to now tear down I-275…..that 200,000 vehicles a day use.

The largest number of commuters into Hillsborough County is from Pasco County. North Hillsborough is bearing the brunt of that southbound traffic on I-275. Commuters are chewing up our local roads because Google Maps or Waze will route to local roads to avoid interstate congestion. That commuter traffic is putting wear and tear on our local roads not meant for that amount of traffic and making them dangerous. 

FDOT is not concerned about those safety issues? FDOT and some of our electeds don't care that today commuters are winding around our local neighborhoods where school buses are stopping, where children and others are walking and playing or where we are walking our pets? 

Commuters are hauling through the neighborhoods of those who oppose TBX too due to congestion on the interstate. Tearing down the interstate to build some massive costly thirty-five lane Boulevard to go 35 mph on will create congestion, gridlock and more commuters barreling through their neighborhood streets. 

Sunshine Citizens and StopTBX are well organized, very vocal and serve a purpose for the Tampa Bay Times to regurgitate false narratives, misinformation and push a costly transit agenda. The StopTBXers want more transit and costly fixed guideways but transit is tanking across the nation including in Tampa Bay. Innovation and technology are providing alternatives to traditional transit, offering transportation services folks see value in and are willing to pay for and disrupting traditional transit.

We understand there are issues to resolve or mitigate with the Express Lane expansion and improvement of our interstates. FDOT was talking with the public, including the StopTBXers, on how to mitigate issues. According to this Times article from June last year:
Debbie Hunt, the Florida Department of Transportation's local director of transportation development, said the agency has held a series of community meetings to try to determine what accommodations it could put in place. They include:
  • Spending $10 million to buy 30 buses so the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority could provide additional bus service on five corridors, thus helping people move around TBX construction while it's under way.
  • Redesigning a pond planned near Central Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard so that some water would be stored under the elevated highway instead. With a smaller pond, five houses along Central Avenue could be saved.
  • Redesigning overpasses to make space below for bicycle trails and sidewalks, bus stops, streetlights and landscaping.
  • Building a pass-through below part of the interstate so residents could walk between Robles Park on one side of the highway and a planned retention pond and Borrell Park on the other.
  • Providing space for one or more community gardens to replace one that will be lost to construction at a Tampa Heights volunteer-built community center.
The StopTBXers cannot say FDOT has not been talking and meeting with them. They have -  FDOT has been talking with the StopTBXers for a very long time discussing how to accommodate and resolve their concerns. FDOT even took them to St. Louis last month but the rhetoric of the StopTBXers is the same.

FDOT must hear from a more diverse group of citizens. They must hear from more than the urbanists and transit extremists who want to tear down our interstates that have been in place since the 1960's. People are not moving to Tampa Bay to ride costly trains or take transit. They are bringing their cars and driving. 

This growth requires that we add interstate capacity, fix the chokepoints at I-4 and 60 and fix the Howard Frankland Bridge northbound gridlock. If people cannot get to downtown Tampa, they simply won't go. If people cannot get in and out of TIA, they will go elsewhere - as some in Eastern Hillsborough now fly out of Orlando not Tampa. Neither are good for Tampa Bay.

And the interstate Express lanes would enable cost-effective regional Express bus service that could provide the flexibility for future use by autonomous vehicles.

Where are our local leaders? We want to count noses. What local/state electeds and leaders oppose TBX, funded by FDOT with state/federal gas taxes we already pay for to improve our roads and interstates (no tax hike needed)? Which electeds in Tampa Bay are willing to give up those gas tax monies we already pay and hand those funds to another part of the state of Florida (Jax, S FL, Central FL) to be used for their road/interstate improvements?  

Inquiring minds want to know as this will be a 2018 election issue.

Common sense and reality not extremism and false rhetoric must prevail or gridlock in Tampa Bay will - then everyone loses.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Public Transportation - The transportation choice of last resort

TBARTA, decades in existence, 10s of millions spent and no viable product or plan yet on the street is not the answer.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

It turns out that regardless of all the hype by the politicians, and the various public transportation authorities' public transportation is not all that popular with the public.

For some insight see:

Michiko S., Palmdale
It's just more convenient to use my car to get somewhere, especially as a single mother. I can't rely on public transportation that doesn't take me directly where I want to go. Carrying things on transit, like the groceries or other errands, is also challenging.
I work for a charter school as a substitute. When I get a phone call, I have to be there ASAP. I can't stand around waiting for a bus that only might come on time. After work, I have to go pick up my kids from school right away. Again, I can't take bus for that. It takes too long.

Want to see more? Click here: Disadvantages of using public transportation.

The real problem with public transportation initiatives such as the pending bill to redo TBARTA into a taxing authority is they don't get the fact that no matter how big, how much it sparkles public transportation in the Tampa Bay areas will always remain the transportation choice of last resort.

Recently, there has been much made of the drop in rider ship on both the HART and PSTA systems. You hear a lot of hyperbole but the real issue is the economy is better, people who could not afford a car and/or gasoline now can and they opt out of public transportation as soon as it is economically feasible.

In a densely populated low height development area like much of Tampa Bay and the surrounding areas where the defining lines between residential, retail, industrial and commercial are frequently blurred, last century transportation solutions will not be cost effective.

The great goal of Janet Long, Pinellas County Commissioner, and her sidekick Senator Jack Latvala of a light-rail system running through the Bay area is just simply not feasible. It is a 1990s idea that was not a very good idea in the 90s.

TBARTA, decades in existence, 10s of millions spent and no viable product or plan yet on the street is not the answer.

Changing the name and giving them taxing authority without public oversight will just create a political nightmare of cronyism and corruption that will produce no results.

For some idea of what lies ahead check out: Caitlin Johnston, Tampa Bay Times Staff writer, Creating one transportation planning agency for all of Tampa Bay won't be easy.

For now, Governor Scott needs to let this one die or simply VETO it with a message to all those who pursue mass transit and the political contributions that go with it to come up with a plan that works and keeps the public in charge.

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