Q&A: Brett Milke, TRANSITion Tampa Bay

Brett Milke, 24, is among a small but vocal contingent of young professionals urging voters in Hillsborough County to agree to pay an extra $10 to $12 a month in taxes to create better transportation options in the future while improving the Tampa Bay region's quality of life.

He tells 83 Degrees why TRANSITion Tampa Bay supports a Hillsborough County referendum on the November 2 ballot.

83D: What do you do for a living?

BM: Commercial construction -- medical, light industrial. I'm a project manager for The Murray Company. I act as the client liaison from cradle to grave. They come to us with an idea and we make it happen. I'm on my way now to Fort Myers for a job and then to Miami. The position has given me a chance to go across country and see other transit systems.

83D: Have you seen a system in a region comparable to the Tampa Bay region?
BM: Personally, among those I've seen, the most comparable city for land use, population-wise, use-wise, would be the Denver system. It links the neighborhoods well.

83D: What got you interested in transportation as an issue?
BM: In Oct. 2009, my friend, Brian Seel, attended a TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) meeting. Afterward, we got to talking about it. Both of us are in construction with backgrounds in urban planning. We went to UF (University of Florida), where we learned that what communities do wrong in terms of planning has a lot to do with sprawl and transportation.

83D: Why TRANSITion Tampa Bay?
BM: Tampa is somewhere I want to put down roots. I want to be here for awhile. This is something that will benefit my generation. It will be in our lifetimes that we will see it happen. I feel like it is something that we can take hold of, figuring that as long as we can voice our opinions and round up interest in young professionals, we are really doing something for our generation.

83D: What have you been able to accomplish so far?
BM: We're trying to get out there and educate people. We've organized young professionals summits, happy hour get-togethers. We get speakers involved. We're working loosely in conjunction with Moving Hillsborough Forward. It's really just a matter of touching as many people as we can. In this last month, we've been trying to get the word out in South Tampa, where there's a large group that can identify with us.

83D: How many people are in TRANSITion Tampa Bay?
BM: Only about 5 to 6 of us. We decided to partner up with heads of local emerging leader groups to help them spread the word. Emerge Tampa, for example. We're now reaching 1,500 to 2,000 people.

83D: Who suggested the name TRANSITion Tampa Bay?
BM: Chrissie Sherman. We were talking about names and it just kind of popped out. We're young professionals transitioning into the working world. It's not just a Tampa thing. We expect YPs in Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, the whole region to get on board. We're all transitioning as a whole.

83D: What's the most interesting thing you hear out there?
BM: The biggest question we repeatedly get is a general question: "What's it going to do for me?'' "When will it be done?'' The beauty of the initiative is that it affects so many people in so many ways.

83D: What kind of reaction do you get?
BM: Generally, we're finding pretty receptive crowds. Most of the opposition is purely anti-tax. When we explain the plan and what's behind it, people have a hard time arguing against it. It does make sense and people get that. We're trying to get people to think beyond the short term into the long term.

83D: How do you do that?
BM: We explain that the plan gives you choices. By having options for travel, it allows you to explore areas you might not otherwise. Take Seminole Heights, for example. It's on my way from South Tampa to USF (University of South Florida), but I have no reason to stop there now when I'm in my car community. This (light rail) gives options. You can stop halfway, have dinner, shop, see friends.

83D: How would you use light rail?
BM: I see myself taking it into the heart of the city for sporting events, and for my day-to-day commute. I could easily see taking transit into work, and then using a company car at work. I'd use the park-and-ride system. And, personally, I would be a big fan of living near a multimodal system where I could catch the train. I'd take that in a heartbeat.

83D: Any last thoughts you want to share with 83 Degrees readers?
BM: Just that it's important that everyone be educated about the issue. Visit our website. Open up the dialogue. Talk to your coworkers about it. It's amazing how many people have so many questions. We want people to be informed. Once people learn about it, they're for it. That's most important.

Diane Egner, 83 Degrees publisher and managing editor, shares insights from thought leaders by conducting interviews and editing their answers for succinctness. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is the publisher and managing editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. 
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