Tampa Dreams of SunRail

Metro Orlando is very grateful to have SunRail! Because here in Tampa Bay, it’s hard to build a better transportation network without a meaningful passenger rail system.

In collaboration with the SunRail Riders group – which advocates for better service on the SunRail Commuter Rail system in Orlando – I’m going to talk about SunRail and the challenges that Tampa Bay faces being without a passenger rail system. This post highlights the 7-day-a-week congestion along I-275, challenges with keeping the TECOline Streetcar Line running, and the ongoing battle between transit advocates and supporters, and the rail haters.

I invite you to read the full post at sunrailriders.com and tell us what you think. I want to take a few moments to thank the SunRail Riders for giving me this opportunity, and for everything that they do to help make SunRail even better! I hope to be able to write other pieces for the SunRail Riders in the future.

NOTE: Corresponding media in the post (except this photo) is not mine. Credit goes to their respective authors.

Revised plans arise for a WestShore area transit hub

Greetings everyone!

As many of you know, the recent economic downturn has forced many transit districts to re-evaluate their current levels of service,  as well as future plans, based on the level of funding that is available. In addition, many districts are searching for new ways to fund their transit districts, but some scenarios bring up more challenges and questions than they do answers and solutions. In the case with HART in Tampa, HART currently must rely on property taxes to fund a large chunk of its transit operations, a source that has been dwindling during the past several years. Put on top of that, the recent economic downturn and  consolidation of the airline industry. Both of those factors have led Tampa International Airport to not only cancel its ambitious North Terminal expansion plan, but to also abandon plans to have an on-site transit hub for HART and PSTA buses, as well as any rail connections.

Instead, Hillsborough County officials are now exploring different options for a transit hub alongside the I-275 corridor. As many of you are well aware, the corridor is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction project that will allow for additional capacity. I mentioned in a previous posting that future plans for the interstate also include “Managed Lanes” and possibly either a light rail or commuter rail line down the median. There’s a rendering that you can view through my Facebook page of one option that is being considered along Cypress St & I-275. Regardless of where the final location may be, the transit hub would have an airport connection via a people mover system that is similar to what is already set up at the airport, as well as other airports throughout the world.

Tampa isn’t the only city looking into such an option. In fact, Miami just recently constructed an off-site transit hub that has a rail connection to Miami International Airport and their facility has become a model for others to consider. However, any intermodal center in the WestShore district is several years away and will likely hinge on any new funding avenues being opened. In my next post, I will be going more in-depth as to what Hillsborough County officials are doing to slowly revive rail talks and how the advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay is helping to make that happen.

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012

Will we ever see any type of rail in the interstate medians?

As the title reads, this is a question that I ask myself from time to time. If you reside in the Tampa area, then you likely already know what exactly I am referring to. I am speaking of the wide open median that encompasses much of Interstate 4 from Ybor City going towards the Orlando area. In the next few years, Interstate 275 from downtown Tampa to the Howard Frankland Bridge will also have a much wider median upon completion of the ongoing reconstruction project.

For many years, it was envisioned that some form of rail would eventually fill the these wide medians; whether it be light rail, commuter rail, or even high speed rail. Since the early 2000s at least, high speed rail was planned to eventually run from Tampa to Orlando via the I-4 median, with a possible extension later to St. Pete on the west end, and towards Jacksonville and Miami on the eastern end, eventually being extended up the eastern seaboard.

However; a couple plans for high speed rail in Florida were rejected, most recently in 2010 by Governor Rick Scott, who was heavily concerned that the costs of construction and maintenance would supersede any financial benefit to the state. Although I have always questioned the ridership potential for a high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, I knew that such a line would be beneficial to the state. We must now wait another 2 years at least before we know if we will have another chance at high speed rail.

Commuter rail presents another possibility for these wide open interstate medians. Although it would be practical to utilize existing freight rail lines that run alongside I-4, I can certainly envision a two or three-tracked commuter rail line running the entire length of the I-4 median from Daytona Beach to Tampa and St. Pete. Light rail has also been talked about in recent years, but I strongly believe that light rail in the interstate median is not a good choice. I believe that light rail should remain on surface streets unless it is absolutely necessary to have it run through an interstate median.

Unfortunately, ever since Rick Scott was elected as Florida’s Governor, there has been increased talk about “Managed Lanes” which are basically tolled HOV lanes that would run through the median of various freeways to alleviate congestion during rush hour. These lanes would allow carpooled vehicles and buses to flow freely past gridlocked traffic for a fee. With the state cash-strapped due to the recent recession, the possibility of managed lanes is gradually increasing. In fact, managed lanes already exist in the Miami area along a portion of I-95. And so far, its been a success.

To read up on what exactly managed lanes are, and how they’re already in use in Miami, click here. Although this news article is somewhat dated, it was published in the Tampa Tribune in December of 2011.

So what to you think about all this? Do you think we will ever see rail in the median of I-4 and I-275? Or will these managed lanes eventually take over the state? I invite you to answer my corresponding poll question and comment on this post. I definitely want to hear what you have to say on this matter.

Please know that the poll question will be open for 30 days. After that period has passed, the poll will close.

Have a great week!

HARTride 2012