Living in what local boosters tell us is the best metropolis of the nation’s best state, it’s easy to get complacent, especially this time of year, when visitors from Minnesota are raving about the sunshine.
Not everyone agrees, of course, with our high opinion of home. The city and state do get their share of unfavorable ratings. Recognizing these imperfections is important, even if immediate solutions are beyond reach.
Among meany measurable factors, residents of Florida are less content than many of our tourists from colder climes. Accessibility to health care in Florida rates low, and roads in Tampa continue to be among the most congested of U.S. cities.
This community is growing fast because of available jobs and amenities. Livability.com ranks Tampa 20th nationwide and the second best place to live in Florida behind only Miami Beach. And most of us wouldn’t consider living in another state.
But welcoming growth and celebrating past success won’t fix our flaws at any level.
Florida, despite having excellent hospitals and medical services, ranks embarrassingly low in public health.
As for overall happiness, Florida ranks a woeful 30th among the states, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The five happiest states are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Montana.
The contentment poll looked into who likes what they do every day, whether they find ways to minimize stress, and if they take pride in their community.
In 2012, Sperling’s BestPlaces reported Tampa to have edged out Las Vegas as the most stressed-out urban area in the country. Lots of assumptions and opinions are part of how such data are compiled and interpreted, and it’s easy to quibble with the methodology. But our guess is that a strong correlation exists between happiness and ease of mobility.
Onerous commutes on roads jammed with aggressive drivers are costly and hard on the nerves. A recent study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute again shows this metro area has some of the most congested streets and highways in the country.
That’s not surprising. For as long as most of us can recall, the I-4 and I-275 intersection in downtown Tampa has been known as “malfunction junction.” The suburban boulevards also have more rush-hour cars than they can accommodate.
A few places of similar size have worse congestion — Baltimore, Sacramento and San Jose — but traffic here is officially worse than in bigger Atlanta, Chicago or Houston.
This challenge goes beyond the Tampa-St. Petersburg urban boundary to a broader region. Only a few mid-sized areas have worse traffic than Sarasota-Bradenton, where the congestion index is higher than in New York or Denver.
Think it can’t get worse? It can. Driving in Tampa today is about like driving was in Miami in 1998 or Los Angeles in 1983.
Tampa and St. Petersburg should not try to be another LA, nor should they compete with North Dakota on the contentment scale, which we might just as easily call the boredom scale.
Ours is a unique, bustling, growing area, full of things to do, and that’s good reason to cheer.
But when we’re stuck in traffic, without alternate routes, as the traffic light goes into its second or third cycle, we think of the many short-sighted local leaders who procrastinated about roads and transit.
So many of them in the 1990s said major improvements might be needed in 15 or 20 years, but not yet. And then we want to scream.
Hillsborough officials are now engaged in a multi-government effort to develop a transportation strategy to address the community’s needs. The plan, which should be completed this spring, is likely to propose more roads, more buses and some rail. It probably will require a voter referendum on its funding.
Pinellas voters will decide on funding Greenlight Pinellas, a comprehensive transportation plan this fall.
We hope voters, when considering such decisions, reflect on how past inaction created the painful problems we now confront — and do not give future residents even more reason to scream.