Rethinking high-speed rail's reach
The Tampa City Council threw its support Thursday behind adding a high-speed rail stop at Tampa International Airport.
At the urging of council member Mary Mulhern, the council agreed to consider a resolution at its next meeting supporting state efforts to snag a share of more than $2 billion in federal grant money that could be used to extend high-speed rail from downtown Tampa to the airport.
The idea got the full support of the other three members at the meeting.
Council Chairman Thomas Scott said the airport should have been part of the original high-speed rail plan.
Current plans for a high-speed rail route run along interstate highway medians from Orlando International Airport to downtown Tampa at the site of the old Morgan Street Jail near Interstate 275.
"You're putting the airport at a disadvantage," Scott said.
Mulhern thinks the rail line also should stretch to Tampa's airport. Orlando and Miami airports are already slated to get stations, she noted.
Without a high-speed leg from downtown to the airport, rail passengers would have to rely on bus routes or a light-rail line if voters approve a sales tax surcharge in November.
Mulhern supports also making the airport part of the light-rail routes if voters give the nod.
No routes or stops for light-rail have been picked. Local transportation officials want to decide by August what light-rail routes and stations to recommend to federal officials to compete with up to 100 cities for transportation funding.
No decision has been made about whether a light rail station at Tampa airport would be part of the first wave of light-rail construction, but the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will vote on that at a meeting on Monday.
A portion of the light-rail line could run directly from the proposed high-speed rail station at Morgan Street to the airport along I-275. It also could go south from the station through the heart of downtown and then west to the airport.
If a high-speed line were added to the mix, it could act as an express route from downtown to the airport and the light-rail line would serve additional passengers with more downtown stops.
High-speed trains are expected to begin running by 2015 between Orlando and Tampa.
Also Thursday, the City Council approved an agreement ensuring taxpayers would not be tapped for costs of hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention, which will run the week of Aug. 27.