by David Chapman
Funding. Trust. Survival. An 800 pound gorilla.
Each is a word or phrases one might hear on a game show or reality TV, but all were a part of transportation officials’ lexicon Friday during the first part of the Urban Land Institute’s “Going Regional” series, “Mobility Check: The Reality of Regional Transportation.”
Mayor John Peyton moderated a panel discussion that featured ideas on the challenges, benefits and efforts needed to create a regional transportation authority by leaders of several area agencies that deal with growth and transportation.
Panelists included Michael Blaylock, Jacksonville Transportation Authority executive director; Denise Bunnewith, North Florida Transportation Planning Organization executive director; Brian Teeple, Northeast Florida Regional Council executive director; Charles Baldwin, Florida Department of Transportation District 2 secretary; and John Thrumston, Citrus County commissioner and representative from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.
“We have got to come together as a seven county region,” said Peyton during his introduction. “We have got to act and to think in a regional capacity.”
Peyton then turned it over to Teeple, who provided a historical backdrop of transportation in Northeast Florida – including a 20-year-old study by the 31 members of First Coast Transportation Study Committee and its chair, Jim Winston, which had many of the same findings that transportation officials today have concluded: there is a need for a regional authority.
Funding would have come from a one cent sales tax, tolls and a gasoline tax, with 85 percent of the funds collected going toward the collecting county – yet nothing was implemented due to a change in state leadership.
Bunnewith followed Teeple and discussed the economic development that would result from such a mutual transportation relationship between participating counties. Already, she said North Florida TPO has helped fund JTA freight and waterborne studies.
For Blaylock, Peyton asked about the pros and cons of regionalization and to address why such a coalition hasn’t yet materialized.
“The element of trust,” he said, in response to a regionalization hurdle. “I think the perception is Jacksonville is the 800 pound gorilla in the room.”
The trust referred to the idea that all participating counties would receive their fair share of service for their monetary participation, while larger counties wouldn’t feel cheated for using their funds in partnership with other counties.
While Blaylock noted an opportunity for the area – a lack of completely being built out – he also didn’t see a non-regional development plan going well.
“I don’t see this area surviving without a good regional mobility plan,” he said.
Baldwin talked state funding – or the recent lack thereof – and how it has affected FDOT programs and the potential effect on creating a regional transportation authority.
“It’s anyone’s guess,” said Baldwin, referring to the state of funding for the future.
As part of TBARTA with Citrus County, Thrumston was able to speak on the organization’s early struggles and success to the panel and over 100 attendees – and he saw some positive similarities.
“What I see so far is that you have some of the same things we had when we started,” said Thrumston.
He went on to say the biggest challenges of the creation of the Tampa area regional transportation system was the trust factor, with everyone looking out for themselves.
“It became successful because they had to leave the egos at the door,” he said. “That’s the biggest challenge you’ll have.”