High-speed rail station needed at airport
July 18, 2010
Tampa Bay needs to build high-speed rail to Tampa International Airport by bringing available federal tax dollars back to our community. Current plans fund stops at Orlando and Miami airports but not at Tampa International Airport. For regional and global connectivity and economic competitiveness, we need modern, multi-modal transportation linking our airport, business centers and beaches with the rest of Florida.
Hillsborough residents will decide whether to fund light rail through a penny sales tax referendum this November. But we have already been awarded $1.25 billion in federal funding for Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail (HSR), and another $2.1 billion competitive federal grant was announced last month for high-speed rail.
At last week's meeting, Tampa City Council voted to support applying for federal grants for a high-speed rail station at Tampa International Airport. Council also voted to back adding a light-rail station to HART's light-rail plans.
Ideally, we need both high-speed and light-rail stations at the airport. They are complementary, not mutually exclusive, systems. Light-rail serves local transit needs, and HSR serves intra-state travel needs. The current light-rail plan funding is not guaranteed - with or without an airport stop.
A recent study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that construction of a high-speed rail network could create up to $2.9 billion per year in new business and up to 27,500 jobs for Orlando. Tellingly, the study does not mention the Tampa Bay area at all.
A projected 35 percent of riders will board at the Orlando International Airport station.
We can hope that the rosy picture for Orlando does not come at the expense of forfeited business and tourist travel through Tampa International Airport. Or we can apply for the recently announced Federal High-Speed Rail Grant of $2.1 billion for our own station at the airport.
The Tampa Bay region has a bigger population, gross domestic product and employment than the Central Florida/Orlando region.
Tampa Bay political and business leaders should be competing aggressively for high-speed rail funds before this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for federal funding passes us by. An airport stop is essential for Tampa Bay's future as a hub for the entire West Coast of Florida, for which a downtown Tampa station is not positioned.
Segments of the current Florida high-speed rail plan travel short distances. While the downtown Tampa to TIA leg would not get up to high speeds, neither will Orlando's three stops, which are less than 15 miles apart. Currently, international high-speed rail trains are able to negotiate the smaller curves of urban settings.
The time to integrate a stop at TIA is now. Phase two of Florida high-speed rail includes a Miami International Airport stop, for which the state Department of Transportation is currently doing an environmental analysis. We may already have the environmental studies for the airport configuration, from the recently completed interstate airport connections around TIA. If not, we need to add TIA to the phase two environmental studies.
The Tampa Bay Partnership, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Hillsborough County Commission, TBARTA, HART, MPO, Tampa City Council, Tampa Bay & Company and our mayors need to act swiftly and decisively to seize the day. We can start by asking the state Department of Transportation to put TIA on the high-speed rail map and apply for these grants by the Aug. 6 deadline.
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