Tampa Port Director not fond of new hub

08/05/08 Mitch E. Perry
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In May, the Florida Legislature rejected the state Department of Transportation’s agreement with CSX Railroad to buy 61 miles of track in Central Florida. But since the purchase agreement doesn't expire until next year, supporters are preparing for a second legislative battle next spring.

The railroad wants to shift freight trains out of Orlando and send them through downtown Lakeland and Plant City to a proposed 318-acre hub in Winter Haven.

Supporters say when completed, the transportation hub, or, integrated logistics center, could be one of the pre-eminent rail-to-truck distribution centers in the Southeast. The hub is scheduled to open next year, and will undoubtedly change the transportation future in the Tampa bay area. That’s considered to be positive for the Port of Tampa, but Port Director Richard Wainio didn’t seem that enthused about it today.

Wainio is a member of the Hillsborough County Metropolitian Planning Organization (MPO), which met today in Tampa. He said the traffic on State Road 60 and other highways in eastern Hillsboroough County will continue to grow with increases in the population. The traffic from the new hub could be a disadvantage to Hillsborough County, he said.

Wainio said the Winter Haven hub would reduce truck traffic coming from Georgia on I-75 and I-95, and move it to rail. But he’d prefer it come another way. Wainio said the community will lose economic benefits because shipping trucks will come from Winter Haven instead of the Port. He said he sees adverse effects locally, but admits from a state perspective, he agrees it will provide more distribution facilities and warehouse activities around Winter Haven.

Mike Williamson with Cambridge Systematics, a consultant hired by the county to study truck traffic, said that currently, when cargo comes into Florida vis CSX rail, it comes through Jacksonville.

Tampa Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said she wanted to have the MPO support the Port.

Wainoi said the MPO should be careful how they address the Winter Haven facility, because it’s linked to mass rail system.

Hillsborough County Commission Mark Sharpe said anything that could be done to prevent trucks from traveling through Ybor City would be a good thing. But he said county officials should be wary of any criticisms that might reach the ear of GOP Winter Park Congressman John Mica.

Wainio said even if there’s rail throughout the state, it still would be most cost effective to have goods shipped in by container to the Port of Tampa to then be put on trucks to other distribution areas like Jacksonville or Atlanta.

The second phase of the hub is an adjacent 900-acre distribution park where CSX hopes to acquire millions of square feet of warehouses and offices and will house up to 18 jobs.

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