Orlando Light Rail Defeated by Voters

COST Commentary: While rail supporters try to put a positive spin on the Orlando light rail defeat, the truth is that many more people and groups such as COST are educating the public with sound analyses and evaluations which provide unbiased facts so that the public can make informed decisions. Years of distortions, deceptions and broken promises by transit agencies are beginning to be understood by the general public. In almost every case, rail transit has achieved the exact opposite of that promised: It has increased congestion, not decreased it; it has increased pollution, not decreased it; it has cost much more than promised; ridership has been much lower than promised; it does not increase long term jobs; and, it does not promote increased development and tax revenue.

Sadly, the major negative impact of these exorbitantly expensive and ineffective train systems is that low income citizens, mostly without alternatives, suffer higher transit fares and reduced bus service which continues to be the backbone transit service for them. This is irresponsible.

Light rail defeated, but supporters aren’t giving up
Posted: 11/03/2010
By: Sarina Fazan

TAMPA – A proposed light rail initiative in Hillsborough County failed at the ballot Tuesday. Those on both sides of the issue say its defeat could have boiled down to a bad economy.

If Amendment 1 would have passed, it would have added a penny to the 7% sales tax.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio pushed for the initiative beginning in 2006. Iorio was disappointed the light rail amendment was defeated, but not surprised.

“We were asking something during the worst economic time, and I could feel it. The time is such that people don’t want to make the investment.”

Unemployment in the Tampa Bay area is among the highest in Florida, hovering at nearly 12 percent.
But Rosemary Goudreau, political Consultant on light rail, feels there are two other big reasons the measure failed 58 to 42 percent. “The campaign failed to connect. “What does this mean to me?'”
And, Goudreau said, she feels voters have a lack of faith in government. “To give government $180 million a year and not be able to say where exactly the trains are going and which neighborhoods would benefit. It was a lot of trust.”

But, while the amendment was defeated, don’t be surprised if you see it on a ballot again, and soon. The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority isn’t giving up.

They issued a statement Wednesday, saying, “The referendum did not pass, but the interest created by this campaign helped educate the voters of Hillsborough County about our many transportation challenges. Voters learned about roads, bus service and light rail. We see that as a real victory.”
The Mayor agreed there is hope as well, although, she admitted, it will have to be another administration that will have to make the push.

“In every other, almost every community where they have gotten light rail through a sales tax somewhere, it has failed the first time,” said Iorio.

The Tampa Chamber of Commerce also released a statement saying they are disappointed but already working to get it on a future ballot. The earliest it could be on the ballot is 2012.

Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

After light rail tax defeat, doubts about Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail lineBy Robert Napper 11/5/10 10:47 AM

Voters in Hillsborough County not only struck a blow to hopes for light rail in the Tampa Bay area by refusing a penny sales tax increase; the overwhelming defeat now has high-speed rail plans in the area under fire.

The Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives is bringing in a new chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, who made it clear before election day he had his eye on Hillsborough’s sales tax vote.

On Oct. 27, Mica posted an Orlando television news story on his website, which read, “Tampa vote seen as crucial for high-speed rail.” In the story, Mica questioned whether high-speed rail in Tampa would work without connections to light rail.

After the sound defeat of the sales tax referendum, Mica told the Associated Press he wants to take another look at all of the $10 billion in federal grants awarded by the Obama Administration for high-speed rail nationally — and specifically money alloted for the nation’s first line, along I-4 between Tampa and Orlando, where work is already underway.

In the AP interview, Mica even questioned whether Tampa was a viable point for high-speed rail, saying the project should perhaps be scaled back just to lines running from the Orlando airport to theme parks and tourist destinations there.

Cutting Tampa out would gut a project state officials have touted for months — including during a series of recent public meeting in Tampa, Orlando and Polk counties geared for generating excitement.

Two of the staunchest supporters of the Tampa-Orlando leg, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, could not be reached for comment. But with the political shift that came Tuesday, Florida Department of Transportation officials charged with completing the $2.6 billion project fully expect a new round of skepticism.

“It’s not surprising,” says Florida High Speed Rail Executive Director Kevin Thibault of Mica’s comments. ”There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for this project and we are looking forward to discussing that with the congressman.”

Thibault says he is unconcerned that light rail in Tampa is for now not on the table, even though in a recent public meeting in Tampa he called light rail a “major component” of high-speed rail plans.

“The system can still work,” says Thibault. “We already have in place plans for rapid-transit buses that will provide the needed transportation into the Tampa area.”

According to Thibault, skeptics like Mica should not be concerned over the financial viability of the Tampa side of the line. He says private sector companies are lining up to take on not only construction, but also maintenance and operation, as well as risks over profitability.

“We have gotten nothing but positive feedback from the industry on how financially successful this will be,” he says. “If the industry didn’t think it will work, believe me they would tell us.”

The sales tax loss in Hillsborough, coupled with Mica’s doubt, made for two days of demoralizing defeat for powerful interests in Tampa, including a committee dubbed Moving Hillsborough Forward, which raised more than $1 million for a campaign supporting the sales tax referendum.

Supporters of the tax, such as Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and former Congressman Jim Davis, blamed the loss on a struggling economy and voter discontent with any proposed new taxes. It was a crushing defeat for the sales tax referendum: 58 percent voted no, 41 percent yes.

“It was just the wrong timing,” Davis tells The Florida Independent. “We are going to look at what went wrong, and there is no doubt in my mind we will be back.”

The transportation agency that has spent millions of dollars drawing up plans for light rail routes and construction, and would have received the funding from the tax, is also going back to the drawing board.

That includes figuring out transportation alternatives to serve the planned high-speed rail stop in downtown Tampa.

“We’ll have to regroup and look at what we will do now,” says Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation spokeswoman Marcia Mejia.

HART officials took criticism from anti-tax interests during the sales tax campaign for not having plans for light rail routes set in stone before the vote, though it is unclear whether that hurt the movement at the polls.

“We’re not sure,” Mejia says. “We did have quite a bit of information out there.”

In a climate in which voters were looking hard at any new taxes, more information could have made a difference, according to Davis.

“I think more details would have helped,” he says. “This was one of those campaign seasons where more information was important.”

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