Tampa Bay-area transit scores big in state budget

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) will finally get the funding it needs to start planning regional transit projects.

Both the House and Senate included $2.5 million for the agency in their budget offers and closed out the appropriation in budget conference this week.

It’s the first time the agency has received substantial funding since the Florida Legislature voted to overhaul the agency from a transportation group that provided limited services included a vanpool into a regional planning entity tasked with working across county lines and lead on transit initiatives.

Of the total funding, about $1.5 million will go toward staff, administration and operations. The remaining $1 million will allow TBARTA to begin working on its mission.

The funding bump is a big win for TBARTA’s lobbying team, which includes Ron Pierce and the team at RSA Consulting Group as well as Alan Suskey of Suskey Consulting.

Those funds can be used for things like feasibility studies for alternative transit options. St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored the appropriations request for the agency, had in mind things like hyperloop.

Elon Musk developed Hyperloop technology and concept. A vacuum sealed tube either underground or slightly above ground on a series of bridges uses magnetic force to propel vehicles through the tube at the speed of sound.

Companies have studied the I-4 corridor for hyperloop finding that the high-tech transit corridor could get travelers from Tampa to Orlando in less than a half-hour.

While some Hyperloop corridors are already under constructed and in use in a handful of places, the Tampa to Orlando route is still just conceptual. However, people like Brandes hope to include newer forms of transit in future planning to enhance the traditional model of buses and trains.

Brandes’ appropriates initially only asked for the $1.5 million to fund operational costs but later amended the request to $3 million.

The $2.5 million approved are non-recurring funds. It’s possible, though not likely, the Legislature could still add recurring funds to TBARTA as lawmakers finalize the budget through next week.