Light-Rail To Be Tampa’s Key New Economic Driver?

Hillsborough County transportation planners now recommend building light-rail transit either alongside or within the Interstate 275 median to connect downtown to Tampa International Airport and the University of South Florida .

Light Rail May Indeed Be the Economic Catalyst Needed By Metro Tampa

George W. Walton, vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff    in Tampa, John N. Gobis, a Newport, R.I.-based management and marketing consultant, and Mary Shavalier, chief of planning and program development for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority,  made the suggestions to the HART board Monday. Such a system could be built cheaper and operate faster than light-rail along CSX right of way through northeast Tampa or along Cypress Street west of downtown, they said.

The planners’ suggestions to the HART board came three months after county voters rejected a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for the system. HART and other transit supporters were criticized for not selecting specific light-rail routes before the referendum.

The HART board did not vote Monday on the suggested proposed 275 route. Instead, board members said they want more detail about how to pay for the project without raising taxes, including public-private partnerships.

It would cost more than $2 billion to build the 27- to 29-mile system, the planners said. They recommended building a demonstration route to TIA starting at around $645 million, compared with $1.36 billion for the northeast segment.

The west route also provides opportunities to partner with the airport, which owns land at Hillsborough Avenue and Hoover Boulevard that could be developed as a maintenance yard for the system.

The airport also owns a 3.4-mile railroad spur from Hillsborough to Linebaugh Avenue that could help the proposed system penetrate deeper into residential areas, potentially increasing ridership to about 11,000 people a day. The proposed line would have 10 stations, including one stop at TIA.

Building the 12.4-mile line from downtown to Linebaugh would cost about $850 million. It would have annual operating costs of up to $8.5 million.