Light rail is top Tampa Bay choice for transit

A light rail system running beside Interstate 275 is the top choice for transit in a study that identifies potential projects in the Tampa Bay region, according to rankings from the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan.

The route would link Wesley Chapel to Tampa and St. Petersburg, with a stop at the University of South Florida.

The second choice would follow the same route but rely on “rubber tires” in a dedicated lane, most likely buses or self-driving vehicles.

The results are part of an ongoing study, which has included workshops, meetings and social media responses.

The study focused on the urban areas of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Light rail, alongside Interstate 275 or the CSX rail line, is a popular option for a transit project, according to a regional study. (File)

The approximately $1.5 million cost is being funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, with support from local governments and agencies, including the three county governments and their transit agencies.

The study considered rail and rubber tire modes of transportation including express bus, bus rapid transit, light rail/modern streetcar, and commuter rail. A total of 15 projects were ranked based on technical merit, and public opinion.

The study’s findings were presented by HART on Sept. 29 at a meeting attended by the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area (TMA) Leadership Group. The group includes members from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Previously, the study identified five potential transit corridors. They are Wesley Chapel to USF, Tampa, and St. Petersburg; downtown Tampa to USF; Westshore to Brandon; south Tampa to downtown Tampa; and Clearwater and Gateway to St. Petersburg.

No funding sources have been identified. The study is scheduled to conclude in September 2018 with a recommendation for a specific project that can attract funding and is “forward thinking.”

Other projects with top rankings in order are:

  • Light rail along the CSX rail line between downtown Tampa and USF
  • Rubber tire in a dedicated lane along the rail line, also between downtown Tampa and USF
  • Commuter rail along I-275 linking Wesley Chapel, USF, Tampa and St. Petersburg – tied for fifth
  • Commuter rail along CSX linking downtown Tampa and USF – tied for fifth

Commuter trains generally operate with heavier train cars at higher speeds, more passengers and fewer stops than light rail.

Light rail is closer to a modernized street car with quicker starts and stops, and fewer passengers than commuter trains.

The study also provided a county by county breakdown on preferred choices for transit based on public opinion.

Light rail along I-275 for Wesley Chapel, USF, Tampa, Gateway and St. Petersburg ranked first in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

In Pasco, the same route with some type of bus or self-driving vehicle placed first. Light rail ranked in third place.

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Published Oct. 11, 2017

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