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A survey is gauging public opinion on combining the Tampa area's planning organizations

Road construction showing the start of a wall and road dug up
Florida Department of Transportation
A wall is shown being constructed in the southeast corner of the State Road 52 and US 41 intersection in Pasco County on Aug. 2, 2023.

The state legislature this year passed a bill that requires the potential merger of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco's MPOs to be studied, and for a report to be complete by next year.

Metropolitan Planning Organizations — or MPOs — are in charge of handling transportation planning and projects in specific areas. Three MPO's that make up the greater Tampa Bay Region are conducting a survey to find if residents are interested in them combining into one larger entity.

The state legislature this year passed a bill that requires the potential merger of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco's MPOs to be studied, and for a report to be complete by next year.

The three MPOs created the survey, which asks questions about which transportation improvements should be prioritized, and who should be in charge of making those decisions.

Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas — that county's MPO — says as it currently stands, big projects can meet more hurdles since there are so many different entities to get on board.

“I'm thinking primarily public transportation, in whatever form,” Blanton said. “Whether we're talking rail or buses, or ferries, that has been a little disjointed. It's dependent on one county taking the lead, it's subject to a real lack of funding. This won't fix the lack of funding for transit. But it gets people in the room that that can make decisions.”

This comes as the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority is set to shut down next year. The organization previously served as the middle man for large scale transportation projects in the region.

Blanton says a merger would get everyone on the same page quicker, and create me more cohesive plan between the regions.

"It's really, how do we collectively come together and advocate for key transportation projects that that help us keep pace and maybe get a little ahead of the growth that we're all experiencing and dealing with in this region?" Blanton said.

He says the survey is giving transportation leaders in the area much more than public perception on a merger.

"There's a regional component that we're working on to so the input will directly feed into the development of those plans, and concepts,” Blanton said. “So you can really help shape the transportation future of Tampa Bay by filling out the survey."

The survey results, along with other documents on the feasibility, costs, and potential framework of a merger of the MPOs, will be submitted to the state by January, as required by the bill.

Blanton says the board for Forward Pinellas is “generally in favor” of a merger of the MPOs.

As of late last week, he says roughly 600 residents had completed the survey. It's open until August 20th.

If a merger is ultimately approved, Blanton says he sees it being fully realized and functioning by 2026 or 2027.

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