St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster supports light rail connection to other cities including Tampa

01/25/12 Janelle Irwin
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St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster champions his city’s transportation accomplishments. At a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon Wednesday afternoon he said he fully supports implementing light rail to connect to other cities in the region.

Tiger Bay meetings boast the ability of members to carve a politician up for lunch. St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster found himself on that platter answering questions he said he didn’t want to answer. But when asked about light rail, the mayor took on a different tune. He’s all for it and has a plan to implement a connection between Tampa and St. Pete in 2018 when the Howard Franklin bridge is rebuilt.

“If we can have some type of rail between Tampa and St. Petersburg and then we can branch it down to downtown St. Petersburg and carry it to Clearwater and the beaches. It’s a huge asset. And once other people figure out why all this really works and it’s good for business and it brings people closer to that rail line and new urban centers are created and economic clusters, they’re going to want to tap onto the rail in Tampa because by golly it just makes sense.”

George Burke is a member of the non-partisan political club. He said it’s not just the Tampa Bay region that is out of touch with public transportation, it’s the entire nation.

“We’ve traveled the world and there’s countries that you wouldn’t believe that have much better rail, much better transportation than we do. Vietnam for example, Australia, Hong Kong, China. Ride the mag-lev train out of Shanghai that goes 465 km per hour. We have nothing like that in this country.”

But even though Burke is glad St. Pete’s leader supports increasing transportation options, he said 2018 is just too long to wait.

“The longer you wait, the more expensive it gets. It’s not going to be any cheaper than it is now or some other time. We just are not public transportation oriented in our country apparently and we need that.”

And Burke wasn’t the only Tiger Bay member who thinks light rail is a necessary part of community growth. Barry Wilkinson lived in a major city where public transportation was a way of life.

“You cannot make this community stay in this century without planning for light rail. I lived for eight years in a small town in the east coast called New York City and everybody uses public transport. It costs $30 a day to park your car in the city and nobody in their right mind takes their car into town. If you don’t have to travel in your car. If you’re just going to and from a work location, it seems prudent.”

Mayor Foster said he plans to have something on the ballot for voters soon to increase transit options for residents. What that will be isn’t clear yet. In 2010, Hillsborough County tried to pass a penny tax increase for their transit system, but voters rejected it.

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