2014 for the most part was pretty eventful for the Tampa Bay area when it came to public transportation. While there were many positives throughout the year, the biggest local story by far was…not so positive. In the next few moments, I will briefly go over what made the headlines in the transportation realm during 2014.
With original aspirations to build a second terminal complex on the backburner due to the recent economic downturn and consolidation of the airline industry, leaders at Tampa International Airport’s governing body – the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority – had to re-think its path for the future. What eventually came out after many months of discussion and planning was a sweeping modernization of the existing 1971-era terminal. This plan was divided into three phases, with the first one (called Decongestion) breaking ground in November. The plan will move all rental car operations to a unified facility at the southern end of the airport’s campus, connected by a modern automated people mover. Other many improvements will also be completed, including a new layout for Level 3 of the main terminal, as well as the groundwork for a replacement Airside D.
Further information can be found at the TPA Airport website.
Just days after Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced his plans to shake up the southeastern section of downtown Tampa, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit unveiled the results of a study that would evaluate the next phase of expansion for the ailing TECOline Streetcar. The study examined several possible corridors from the current terminus at Whiting St by the Fort Brooke Garage to the Marion Transit Center in northern downtown, including Marion St, Florida Ave, Tampa St, Ashley Dr, and Franklin St. Depending on which alignment is eventually chosen, along with other factors, the project could cost up to $60 million. The study also recommends the line be upgraded with modern railcars, something that I have been voicing support for during the past several months.
The biggest story here in Tampa Bay by far for 2014 was the crippling defeat of not one, not two, but three transportation-related sales tax initiatives during the November, 2014 election. Here in Tampa Bay, the biggest of the three measures was the Greenlight Pinellas initiative that aimed at doubling Pinellas County’s bus system and eventually bring forth a starter light rail line to the central section of the county. The second initiative was in Polk County, where the My Ride/My Roads plan aimed at improving area roadways and expand and further unify the county’s bus system. Then, up in Alachua County, the Moving Alachua County Forward measure hoped to bring in more funding to improve roadways within the county. All three initiatives failed by over 50%, sending shockwaves to supporters that voters simply were not ready for, or willing to deal with added taxes while the nation’s economy was still on shaky ground riddled with budget cuts, pay cuts, layoffs, and other negative aspects. Meanwhile, Tea Party insiders like Sharon Calvert chanted victory towards all three ballot defeats in hopes that voters will eventually sway municipal governments to contract out bus services to the private sector.
This past May, Orlando’s commuter rail line, SunRail, opened to customers after enduring quite a planning and construction process that involved dueling it out with CSX Transportation over their then-planned freight hub in Winter Haven. The line’s opening signaled a new era in public transit throughout the Orlando Metro region, as Orlando International Airport gears up for its own radical expansion plans, and as the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) prepares Interstate 4 for a massive reconstruction project that is slated to begin in 2015 and run through about 2021 – yes…that’s roughly six years folks! The line also brings forth hopes that Tampa Bay one day could have a commuter rail line of its own. During the fare-free period in May, I had a chance to ride SunRail from Sand Lake Road to downtown Orlando and back, and I truly enjoyed the journey! Expect to see the rest of my SunRail series in early 2015.
In December, FDOT announced that a trial late-evening run would start on December 22 after a petition was sent in calling for more service. So far, a few days have proved to be very encouraging, and I really hope this will send a message to state leaders that SunRail needs to be expanded, and soon! Refusing such a service expansion will not only negatively impact Orlando and surrounding communities, but it will also send a message to Tea Party insiders here in Tampa Bay that our area does not need expanded public transit. And, it will only add onto the underlying agenda of these insiders to contract out bus services to the private sector.
Meanwhile, in the Norfolk, VA area, Hampton Roads Transit has been steadily moving ahead with plans to extend its starter light rail line. To the east, towards Virginia Beach, and to the north towards Naval Station Norfolk. Both extensions are currently in the study phase, though the Virginia Beach extension is further along. During the course of 2013 and 2014, several elements have complicated the Virginia Beach extension study, including a late-minute agreement between municipal and state leaders to fund a short extension to Town Center, which would be shorter than any of the three extension alignments already planned out. If all goes well from here on out, the new segment could be open by 2018.
SuperStorm Sandy heavily damaged parts of New York City’s subway system in October of 2012 and threatened to bring the entire city to its knees. However, the strength and resilience of New York City and its citizens have triumphed over the tragedy. Since the disaster, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched the Fix and Fortify project to rebuild key elements of the subway system that were damaged during the storm. Such completed work includes the rebuilding of the Montague and Greenpoint tunnels, and restoration of the old South Ferry station – until the newer complex can be rebuilt. Earlier this month, the MTA awarded a $194 million dollar contract to rebuild the newer South Ferry station, which is expected to take approximately two years to complete. When finished, the newer station will be equipped with flood prevention measures such as retractable flood doors at station entrances.
Go to MTA.info and scroll down on the right to the Fix and Fortify section for project updates.
In Paris, France, plans for a massive subway system expansion is moving ahead. Officially called the Grand Paris Express, four new subway lines will be constructed, one existing subway line will be extended in two directions almost simultaneously, and a second existing line will be extended and modernized. The new subway lines will be numbered 15 through 18, while Lines 11 and 14 will be extended (the 11 will also be modernized and converted to fully automated operation). In addition, Lines 4, 6, 11, and 14 will all receive brand new, next-generation rolling stock during the construction of the Grand Paris Express. This project will breathe new life into the Parisian public transit system, as well as reach areas that are currently inaccessible by passenger rail lines. If all goes according to plan, the entire “Grand” plan could be completed by 2040.