Opinions continue to shift regarding the wisdom of creating a regional board to tackle transportation issues in Tampa Bay.
When the issue came up at the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s meeting in June, officials resisted the idea when they found out that Pasco would have far fewer seats on the board than Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.
At the time, Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley said he’d resist a regional approach — without assurances that Pasco’s voice would be heard.
But the county board member told his board colleagues that he came away with a different opinion, after attending the June 23 meeting of the Tampa Bay Area Transportation Leadership Group and Suncoast Transportation Planning Alliance Board.
At that meeting, Oakley said David Gwynn, the secretary for the District Seven office of the Florida Department of Transportation, explained the advantage of joining the region’s forces together on transportation issues.
“I was looking at a small picture of supporting Pasco County. I wasn’t looking at the big picture, which supports the region,” said Oakley, whose comments came during the Pasco County Commission’s July 11 meeting.
If the individual counties in Tampa Bay joined together, they’d stand a much greater chance to attract a greater share of federal funds, the Pasco board member said.
Because of the population it would represent, the Tampa Bay regional board would rank No. 17 in the nation, Oakley said.
“It’s a lot bigger picture than what I was thinking at first. It’s very important for us to be a part of that group, so we can get some of those monies in our area,” Oakley said.
His board colleague Kathryn Starkey, a staunch advocate for regional transportation planning, agreed.
She told Oakley: “I am really grateful that you came. We had some new people there.”
She said the mayor of Temple Terrace was there and she believes he initially felt the same way that Oakley had felt, regarding representation, prior to that meeting.
“But afterwards, he told me, he really had his eyes opened,” she said.
Starkey said FDOT Secretary Gwynn was eloquent in explaining the disadvantage that results from a lack of a regional transportation approach in Tampa Bay.
She added: “This is not about our local votes and our local issues. We get that money, and that money will still come to us in the same formula. This is about working together on big projects, for West Central Florida. And, we’re not doing it and it’s such a disservice.
“I was very happy with some of the comments I heard around that room.”
“Some people in Hillsborough had been hearing a story from a few commissioners that don’t really reflect what the importance of this regional MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) means to the community, and they had their eyes opened at that meeting. I was grateful for that,” said Starkey, who has been elected chairwoman of the Tampa Bay Area Transportation Leadership Group.
“There’s still discussion of how our representation falls out,” she said, adding that there are also federal rules that must be followed.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano agreed that the county must pursue potential opportunities.
“I think it’s important that we make the right step forward to get that money. If it allocates a whole ‘nother pot of money that we weren’t getting, it’s definitely something to pursue.”
Starkey is confident that a regional approach to transportation can occur in Tampa Bay.
“We’re going to get this done. We’re going to get our regional MPO in place,” she said.
Published July 26, 2023