In recently filed legislation, Pinellas state Sen. Jeff Brandes is seeking to dissolve the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, which oversees regional transportation projects across the area.
The bill, SB 1130, would dissolve the group, which Brandes said will allow other entities to focus on getting things done.
“I don’t think it needs to be a state funded, state authorized entity,” Brandes told Florida Politics. “In many ways, it’s duplicative to the federal and state programs that are currently operating.”
The Legislature created TBARTA in 2007 to develop a transportation master plan for a seven-county region of West-Central Florida. The agency covers Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Its original name was the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and while its mission was broad, it served limited purposes including operating a regional van pool. The Florida Legislature voted to change the transportation in its name to transit and restructured its purpose to serve as a regional transit planning agency to coordinate intracounty plans.
However, that change established an unfunded mandate and every year since lawmakers have come back asking for funding to keep operations rolling. Critics saw the agency as a wasted and duplicative endeavor while supporters considered it a way to establish regionalism for transit in a system where individual county transit agencies tend to focus only within their borders.
If Brandes’ bill passes, TBARTA would have to distribute its assets to each local government represented on its board.
“We have multiple organizations in the region that can easily do the job that they’re currently doing,” Brandes said. “They’re essentially just a planning entity that has devolved into planning futuristic concepts — not real, actual programs for actual infrastructure.”
Brandes is referencing the group’s work evaluating possible regional transit projects like Hyperloop, a high-speed tube that could shuttle passengers across the Bay.
The TBARTA Governing Board has 17 members, four of whom are business-community representatives appointed by the Governor.
TBARTA oversees Envision 2030, Tampa Bay’s first Regional Transit Development Plan. TBARTA has also supported a bus rapid transit project connecting Downtown St. Petersburg, the Gateway area, Westshore, Downtown Tampa, the USF area and Wesley Chapel.
This isn’t the only legislation this year seeking to alter TBARTA.
Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson joined Republican Rep. Amber Mariano in refiling a bill to give mayors more flexibility as members of the agency.
Under the law currently in place, mayors who serve on the regional transit group must be present to vote.
Under the proposed legislation (HB 389, SB 422), a Mayor could send a designated alternate to serve as a member of the governing board, with the ability to act as a voting member.
Last year, a similar bill was filed but died after passing through its committees. Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond sponsored the House version of the bill.
The bill would also rename the TBARTA’s Metropolitan Planning Organization Chairs Coordinating Committee to just the Chairs Coordinating Committee.
The governing board requires two members to be mayors, or if passed, mayor delegates.