Tampa City Council rejects study on high-speed rail to airport

07/29/10 Seán Kinane & Lachelle Roddy
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Tampa City Council voted down a resolution calling on the state to study a high-speed rail link between downtown and Tampa International Airport. The vote was 3-4 to defeat the resolution Council had requested two weeks ago.

John Wheat, interim director of Tampa International Airport’s board, told Council that a light rail link makes more sense at the airport.

"Since 2003, we've prepared a couple of studies. Our most recent one was done in 2007, which provided for a light rail corridor to come into the airport on a ride-away that we have identified. And we've also been able to identify that ride-away to serve our existing terminal, the future north terminal, and if HART wishes to take it further north, we also have an access line on the CS ex lines we own, all the way to Lineback."

Light rail from downtown Tampa to the airport is also being studied by HART, is in TBARTA’s long-term regional transportation plan, and is favored by Hillsborough’s MPO. Their director, Ray Chiaramonte, says light rail makes more sense to travel the short distance and narrow corridors between downtown and the airport when compared to much larger commuter rail and high-speed rail trains.

"The high-speed rail and commuter rail are both taller, and it does cause runway issues, as Mr. Wheat mentioned. Also, the grade problems, which I think is really a significant thing to overcome. Commuter rail and high-speed rail can only go on 1.5% grade. Light rail can go on a 7% grade. So, those are probably some of the reasons I would never have studied."

Much of Tampa City Council’s focus has been on the fact that there won’t be high-speed rail to the airport. But former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik reminded the Council how fortunate the city is to be getting a major transportation hub in a central location.

"We have the unique position of being the only city in Florida that will have a high-speed rail stop in its downtown. High-speed rail stops at airports are fundamentally curtailed and limited in what you can develop. For all the reasons this counsel knows: height restrictions, security restrictions, all that. We have this great opportunity to have this new ground transportation airport in the heart of our city, on an express run, may 38 minutes from Walt Disney World. This is the real picture that I think we should understand, and be saying: "How do we connect to it?". Great questions."

Connecting to it depends on a local network of buses and rail. Many transportation advocates hope Hillsborough County voters will pass a transit tax referendum this November. If it succeeds, the county’s sales tax will increase by a penny and the funds will go to roads, enhanced bus service and a light rail network. Eventually there will be a rail link across Tampa Bay to Pinellas County, but the MPO’s Chiaramonte recognizes that link will likely be light rail or commuter rail, but almost certainly not high-speed rail.

"Early on, that was thought to be a good idea, but the same concerns come in. When you look at the technology of going down the interstate, and some of the curves around Westshore, going across the bridge, with technology that's likely only to run once an hour or once every two hours. You ask yourself, what is going to serve Pinellas County better? Light rail that would run every fifteen minutes, all day long? Or something that's only going to run once an hour, once every two hours to connect them to Hillsborough County? The reality is, I think most of the officials now in Pinellas County realize that the light rail is really the preferred technology."

Tampa City Council also briefly considered installing new parking meters downtown that would take credit and debit cards. But consideration of the two million dollar contract was put on hold until the Council’s August 26 meeting.

Tampa International Airport administration

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concerned tampeno

This is why we need a new head of the MPO. Ray Chiaramonte is the same person who has led "planning" for Hillsborough for 31 years. Drive around and see the results. It's a disaster. He lives in Orlando which should tell you something.

Relieved Tampeno

Tampa is a disaster? In what way? Please support statements with facts. I find it very easy to get around Tampa and travel between St Petersburg and Tampa. The council's vote makes sense and I agree with them.

Executive Director MPO

I have never led planning, I was the assistant director at the Planning Commission since 1996 which is a recommending agency. I have been Director at the MPO for 1 1/2 years. Elected officials have final word on planning as it should be. I do not live in Orlando. I lived in Celebration, Fl from 1996 to 2000 to learn first hand the attributes of walkable communities. As far as Orlando and Tampa, I would take Tampa hands down anytime. I love living here and will love it even more when we have a multi modal efficient transit system that works for the majority of people.

Minor details

First off, if you are Ray C. can you confirm that outside of this page. There are people who have an annoying habit of using aliases, and confirming your id somehow outside of this page might help. Second, I applaud your support of transit. I do not want to see Tampa get left in the dust. The Rust belt is full of places that were great in their heyday, but because they did not change until the 11th hour, they suffered.