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Lessons Learned from Failure of Hillsborough's Rail Referendum


It's been two years since Hillsborough County's referendum on mass transit went down in flames. WUSF's Steve Newborn talks with Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, on what lessons planners have learned since then.

He says there's several lessons:

  • Different parts of the county have to be sold on what it means for them. For Plant City, for instance, it means upgrading railroad crossings. Suburban areas of the county are big on transportation improvements and express buses. The city of Tampa wants rail mass transit.
  • Timing is key. The 2010 referendum was done during the height of the Great Recession.
  • The rail component should be focused on one main line - possibly going from USF/New Tampa to downtown - instead of outlining five possible rail lines. And there needs to be more detail on where the stations would be and the exact route, which hadn't been hammered out.
Coming some day to Tampa?

"In all honesty, this isn't 1955, and I think if President Eisenhower was here, the Interstate probably wouldn't get built," Chiaramonte says. "People are in a different mental attitude, and they want to make sure the money's not being wasted. So the idea of maybe a pilot line, maybe our plan would have more appeal."

  • They're looking at other technologies, like rail hybrids that can run self-propelled vehicles on freight tracks, and freight cars could use the lines at night as a way to save money.
  • And since the rail referendum passed in the city of Tampa ,they're looking at pushing to amend the existing language in the state statutes that say only counties can hold referendums to include cities over 100,000 people.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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