Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority Survives Legislative Challenge
A Senate bill that would have disbanded TBARTA didn’t get through the Florida legislative session -- this time. Organization officials are pleased about that, and some non-recurring funding the legislature provided them.
In February, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) proposed SB 1130, which would have dismantled the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority and distributed its funding to local government members on its board.
During the Senate’s April 22 session, Brandes voiced strong opposition to TBARTA’s existence.
“TBARTA is one of the most duplicative entities that we have in Tampa Bay,” Brandes said. “It is essentially the appendix of the transportation planning process, we could cut it out and nobody would miss it. We should sunset TBARTA.”
Brandes withdrew his bill, but an amendment was added to SB 1194, filed by Sen. Ed Hooper (R-Palm Harbor).
The amendment would change some of TBARTA’s procedures by permitting mayors on the board to send a designated alternate to vote in their place.
“While I’ll support the amendment, I just think, ultimately, TBARTA should go away. It really adds no value,” said Brandes.
Brandes also disapproved of the $1.5 million in nonrecurring funding the organization is set to receive in the fiscal 2021-22 budget. He argued that other local agencies could perform the same studies as TBARTA.
TBARTA’s Director of Communications Chris Jadick disagreed.
“I think most understand the value that TBARTA brings to the region and see what the potential is for regional transit development in this area to improve economic opportunity,” said Jadick. “I think the legislature recognized that by including us in this year's budget, and we're very appreciative.”
In response to lawmakers’ criticisms, Jadick says his organization sees this as a chance to demonstrate the value they can provide to the Tampa Bay area and show off the results of their work.
“There's no question that the Tampa Bay region has fallen behind other regions around the country and people want to see results. They want to see new trends and innovation,” said Jadick. “So TBARTA has to demonstrate to both our public officials and the public that we can actually bring these transit solutions to our area.”
TBARTA was created by the Florida Legislature in 2007 to “advance regional transportation needs in Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties."
Jadick said that TBARTA will continue to work with stakeholders like state and local lawmakers and transit agencies.
“So nothing's changed in that our communication initiatives continue,” said Jadick, who added that the agency is still developing projects while looking for opportunities to expand.
“We're continuing to work on a bus rapid transit project looking at express bus options for the project that began a couple of years ago. We have innovative transit technology funding from the state that's from 2019 and we've used some of that money to undertake a feasibility study into aerial gondolas in St. Petersburg and Clearwater,” said Jadick.
And while Brandes could once again propose disbanding TBARTA in the future, Jadick says they will continue trying to bring new federal and state dollars to the area.