Transportation in the Tampa Bay Region

Creating the Success Agenda

Jim Ley, February 2016

Thirty five years in local government service taught me one thing – the status quo is in charge. To make progress, there must be leaders who are willing to challenge the status quo, propose a new agenda and be politically nimble enough to adapt to input from others.

Having developed the political and financial support for over $5 Billion in transportation investments, I offer a few suggestions regarding what needs to be considered to produce a success agenda for a transportation initiative in the Tampa Bay Region. Each of these challenges the status quo – some in significant ways. Collectively they represent a leadership platform upon which to build a regional transportation initiative that would produce far reaching improvements.

1. It’s Always About the Region. The challenge is no longer local, limited to a city or a county. Transportation systems flow across city and county boundaries as if they did not exist. A combination of legislative actions, as well as some local skin in the game will be needed to break down parochial political interests.

2. It’s About Roads as Well as Transit. Any improvement plan must contain a commitment to improve both roadways and transit. The political reality is that many taxpayers are as frustrated about roads as they are about traffic congestion. They want a plan that addresses all the issues. BTW, there are only two kinds of roads – “tax ways” and “toll ways.” There is not such thing as a “free way.”

3. It is about Local Leadership. The State of Florida is not an automatic transit bankroll, nor is it a solution for local transportation problems. However, the Legislature appears to be willing to partner with communities that demonstrate the ability to act on a vision. Large scale legislative and monetary support for the Tri Rail and Sunrail initiatives were secured only after local leadership and financial commitment were evident. And, access to federal transit dollars will only come after a sustainable local financial plan is in place.

4. It’s About Regional Governance. Sorry, no transit and transportation system will be able to operate with gas and sales tax revenue alone. The Water Management District approach to regional challenges offers the model for creation of a regional operating Board that also has the ability to levy a limited property tax.

5. It’s About Defining Transit Appropriately Why is transit called “public transportation? ALL TRANSPORTATION IS PUBLIC. It just serves different publics with different means or motivation. ALL TRANSPORTATION IS ABOUT FREEDOM and the choices in life that transportation freedom enables. Just as with the automobile, the purpose of transit is to give those who choose, or those who absolutely need to use transit, the freedom to move and live in communities in a way that improves their lives. If their economic lives improve, the economic health of the community improves. As with people who use other modes like cars, transit gives its users the freedom to access employment, education, retail, health and recreation facilities, as well as other community facilities that define life. Transit, like roadways, is an investment in community economic health. It is that simple. Any argument against transit improvement is an argument that supports economic decline.

Jim Ley, February 2016


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