A group of elected leaders from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties gathered recently in Odessa to discuss whether the time is right to pursue a regional approach to transportation planning.
Representatives from Pasco and Pinellas counties expressed support for the idea, while Hillsborough and Tampa officials voiced opposition.
The discussion was held at the March 24 meeting of the TMA, at Starkey Ranch Theatre Library Cultural Center, in Odessa.
The TMA is a subcommittee of the Sun Coast Transportation Alliance. Its membership is made up of local representatives of the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Hillsborough County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) and Forward Pinellas, which is the lead planning organization for transportation and land use in Pinellas County.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, chairwoman of the TMA, is a staunch advocate of regional transportation planning and reiterated her support of that approach.
Pinellas County Commissioners Dave Eggers and Janet Long also spoke in favor of taking a regional, big-picture view when it comes to setting transportation priorities.
“We’ve got to think bigger,” Eggers said. “This is an opportunity for us to be leaders in the area. To me, it’s something that we should have been doing some time ago.
“The partnerships with the cities, the counties, the chambers and the businesses all have to be at the table. The mechanism for regional improvement has to include the mechanism to protect our local efforts,” Eggers added.
Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman shares that perspective.
Essentially, there are two different ways of governing, Weightman said.
Tackling regional issues requires a multi-county approach; addressing local issues can be done by elected leaders within that specific locality, he said.
“So, there’s two different lanes,” Weightman said.
But Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and Tampa City Councilman Joseph Citro expressed skepticism.
Kemp said she’s against merging MPOs.
“The MPOs were created to protect local populations, local communities, local neighborhoods, and diverse, disadvantaged communities,” Kemp said.
”Massive roadways have hurt the structure of Tampa and its economic opportunity,” Kemp added. “Debates in the region have been largely about the impacts on Hillsborough County residents — over and over again.”
Citro said he’s concerned about Tampa getting lost in the shuffle.
Tampa residents feel the brunt of the daily crush of commuters coming into the city and leaving each day, he said.
“The population in the city of Tampa doubles each and every day, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.,” Citro said. “I can’t emphasize this enough.”
If a regional approach is adopted, Citro said Tampa should be granted greater representation on the governing board because it bears a greater impact than other places in the region.
Citro said the Port of Tampa and Tampa International Airport also must be able to weigh in on n regional transportation issues.
Starkey responded: “I agree the airport and the port should have a voice on here.”
But the TMA chairwoman added: “To me, those are details that get fleshed out as we go more through the process, more in-depth.”
Starkey said she understands concerns that local governments may have, if a regional planning approach is adopted.
“We have our fears, as a small fish, but the devil is in the details, and if other communities around the country can figure it out, I think we can figure out how we keep our local identity but work on a regional identity, as well,” Starkey said.
David Gwynn, secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District Seven office said estabishing a regional MPO may create a better opportunity for securing federal funds for projects.
“With 3.2 million people in an MPO, you’re going to be the largest MPO,” Gwynn said.
“We believe we’d be able to be more successful in bringing more money to the entire region,” Gwynn said. “All boats should rise, if the tide rises, right?”
“I think a lot could go right,’’ added Gwynn, whose FDOT district covers the Tampa Bay region.
Published April 12, 2023