New bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would create a "Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority” and repurpose $60 million out of an existing rail fund to fund alternative transportation projects - such as "Bus Rapid Transit" and autonomous vehicles – starting in the Tampa Bay area and Miami.
Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, co-sponsored the effort, saying rail ways and new roads are “too expensive, rigid and inflexible.”
"I don't think we can lay track to get ourselves out of the problem. I don't think we can build roads to get ourselves out of the problem,” Grant said. “I think what we need more of in Tallahassee, and in all levels of government, is asking ourselves, how can we use the existing resources and infrastructure we have more efficiently before we take tax dollars to build more infrastructure and resources?"
Grant is also in favor of exploring more ridesharing options to help locals navigate increasingly congested traffic.
Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said the $60 million will be divvied up around the state, starting in the Tampa Bay region and Miami.
"$25 million would be dedicated to (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) TBARTA,” Young said. “$25 million would go to Miami Dade County, and the remainder would be used throughout the state and will be allocated to various projects that are ranked by (the Department of Transportation) DOT."
The state funding would be contingent on getting local matches from counties participating in TBARTA - Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties and in Miami-Dade County.
“We're not taking anything off the table for traditional projects that would be funded in a traditional way through the FDOT fiveyear plan,” Young said. “What Rep. Grant and I are doing is providing additional funds that we are going to dedicate to innovate in alternative transportation projects. So this is new and this is separate from everything else that is still the way it's always been.”
But Grant and Young reiterated several times that they don’t think rail is the way to go, and TBARTA chairman Jim Holton agreed.
“We cannot be locked into 20th century ideas in the 21st century. And fixed guideway systems, especially rail are very costly. And I think the governor and the legislature are looking at more productive ways to move people efficiently and economically and fairly throughout the Tampa Bay region.”
"And with the onset of the AV technology and all kinds of different modalities, I think we have to look at a whole constellation of different ideas in Tampa Bay and not just be locked into the old idea of ‘rail is the only way’ Rail is not the only way.”
Grant said it's a lot of money sunk in something that may or may not develop the ridership.
“What we're saying here is how can we harness things that even if they fail, advance the ball forward for the transportation community in an innovative way,” Grant added.