Supporters of the Tampa Rail Project won a small victory when the Hillsborough County Transportation Task Force agreed to start writing a ballot for a one-cent sales tax referendum to be voted on next year.
However, the light rail project is far from being finalized, as the tax will cover only about 20 percent of the operating cost, and the TRP could cost up to $70 million per mile.
In this economic environment, it is hard to imagine why Tampa needs such an expensive rail line in an area already serviced by buses. The goal of helping the environment and creating jobs is an ambitious one, but it will take millions of dollars and a number of years before any results can be seen.
With budgets tight this year, the county would do better to put the light rail project on the back burner and invest in more immediate solutions to congestion and carbon emissions.
The TRP is not Florida’s only costly commuter rail project.
Funding for SunRail, a proposed 61-mile commuter rail through central Florida, is up for a vote in the state House and Senate, according to Bay News 9. In 2007, the state offered the Jacksonville-based freight company CSX Transportation Inc. $491 million to build the commuter rail, according to the Associated Press. Since then, its cost has continued to balloon: The project’s current estimated cost is $1.2 billion, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Even if the SunRail is approved by the Legislature, the project will likely not have enough funding to get started, as the state’s transportation budget is being cut. Sen. Mike Fasano, chairman of the Florida Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, told Bay News 9 the project may be suspended.
“They’d have to delay SunRail for many years to come, because we only have — and I don’t say only — we have $500 million in the trust fund to build roads,” he said, according to the Journal. “If the House prevails in sweeping $400 million, there’ll be virtually no dollars left to build any new roads, and definitely no dollars left to move forward on SunRail.”
If the state cannot fund the SunRail, it will be difficult for Hillsborough County to fund its own rail project. Neither endeavor has gotten off the ground yet, and the state would be better served by suspending both until the economy