Tampa City Council supports short high-speed rail extension from downtown to airport listen07/15/10 Seán Kinane
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In January, President Barack Obama came to Tampa to announce that federal stimulus funds would be used to pay for half the cost of a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. There are three stops planned for the Orlando area – including their airport, one in Lakeland, and one in downtown Tampa. But Tampa officials are concerned that the bullet train will not go to Tampa International Airport.
Today City Council unanimously supported a resolution put forward by Council member Mary Mulhern. She wants the city to ask the Florida Department of Transportation to apply for funds from a new competitive grant of $2.1 billion to build a high speed rail line from downtown Tampa to the airport, a distance of only six miles.
"Although the Tampa International Airport is not a part of that plan, there is still the possibility of asking for that. I'd like to point out for one thing that of that 1.25 billion, the five stops that have been approved, one of them is in Polk County, Lakeland area and that has not even been determined exactly where that's going to be. So, I'm giving this as background because people have this perception that it's too late for us to stop at the airport, when in reality I don't think that is necessarily true."
Council member Charlie Miranda voted for the resolution.
"I support the intent of the motion by Ms. Mulhern to ask that it be continued to the Tampa International Airport. It would only make logical sense that if, and I'll mention the city, that if Orlando's going to have it, what are we a step child to Orlando? I mean I don't have Mickey Mouse ears, but I have a lot to offer to the city of Tampa. The city of Tampa does, not I."
Council Chair Tom Scott gave what can only be interpreted as a major slight to downtown Tampa when he said that high-speed rail passengers would not be interested in stopping there.
"There's no way in the world that you're going to travel from Orlando to downtown Tampa to stop and that's it. You have to be realistic. If I'm going to leave Orlando and come to downtown Tampa, at least have it stop at the airport so I can fly back out of Tampa. So therefore, you're putting the airport at a disadvantage here for the city of Tampa. Also, tourism would be at a disadvantage for the city of Tampa. When you look at it, which is interesting that you had a high speed rail that leads from the airport in Orlando and stops at the Convention Center which is really down the street, it almost becomes a commuter rail really. And then it makes another stop at Disney. In fact, I will argue that from downtown Tampa to the airport, it is probably further than it is from the Convention Center to Disney.
Mulhern corrected Scott’s errors about distance between stops noting that there are much longer distances between the proposed stops in Orlando than between downtown Tampa and the airport.
"The stops in Orlando, it is a longer distance because I looked it up. It's about fourteen miles between the three stops in Orlando, each. And I think it's about eight miles from downtown to the airport. But the reality is you can't, it's high speed rail if you have the distance to get up to that. So Orlando essentially is using this as regional or local rail."
Bullet trains only function at full speed when they have long distances between stops. That’s why most transportation experts say the six-mile link between the airport and downtown Tampa should be either light rail or commuter rail. On Monday the board of the Hillsborough Transit Authority, or HART, will vote whether to add an airport line to its study of light rail lines.