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North County group holding regional transportation forum

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— A polarizing vote on the future of Pinellas County transportation is fast approaching, but a local advocacy group would like to broaden the discussion.

The Council of North County Neighborhoods will present a free regional transit forum at 7 p.m. Monday and inviting speakers from Pinellas and across bridges to the east and south.

“We’re branching it out so that it’s more of a discussion about regional transit throughout Tampa Bay,” said Don Ewing, CNCN president.

“We feel it’s the right time to talk about the entire regional transportation issue versus just green versus red,” he said, alluding to Greenlight Pinellas, the county’s proposed 30-year transit plan, and the opposition group No Tax for Tracks and its red stop sign logo. “I just don’t think that’s always productive.”

Monday evening’s forum, at Crescent Oaks Country Club, off of East Lake Road, plans to have representatives from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and from regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations, in addition to speakers from Greenlight Pinellas and No Tax for Tracks.

The forum will be the latest of many transportation-related gatherings hosted by the CNCN.

“We’ve talked about it for several years now in various forums because it’s important,” he said. “It’s important for North County because prior to the North County Connector routes we didn’t really have much.

“Now they’ve actually got a pretty decent circulator bus system that goes around and overs service up there.”

Greenlight Pinellas is a multimodal transportation plan devised by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority that would swap out a nearly 3/4-mill county property tax for 1-cent sales tax increase. Voters countywide will decide its fate during the general election, on Nov. 4.

Hillsborough County officials are debating putting a plan similar in nature on a future ballot. Voters there rejected a light-rail referendum in 2010, however backers of mass transit expansion and light-rail options are sensing growing regional momentum in their favor. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has openly encouraged residents to support Greenlight Pinellas and a connected system in the future.

“It really is a regional conversation and everybody’s starting to get on board with this,” Ewing said.

ehorchy@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1071

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