TAMPA — The Tampa Bay region has fallen behind the Orlando area in transportation and mobility options, a summary of projects discussed Thursday at a transportation summit meeting indicate.
Those include commuter and long distance trains and billions spend on highway improvements on the eastern side of the Interstate 4 corridor.
“We have to speak with one voice,” said Paul Steinman, Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary, offering a solution for how the area can improve its state and federal funding pitches to catch up to Orlando and elsewhere.
More than 175 planners, elected officials and business leaders attended the summit conference, including an executive from All Aboard Florida, the proposed passenger train service between Miami and Orlando scheduled to begin next year.
However, Rusty Roberts, vice president of corporate development for Florida East Coast Industries, did not elaborate on a possible extension between Tampa and Orlando beyond his comments to a legislative group in Tallahassee Tuesday that discussion of a possible second phase was premature.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, an influential Republican Congressman from Winter Park, set the tone for a renewed focus on transportation in a video address that opened the session.
“You have some challenges,” Mica said. He reminded the attendees the Tampa Bay area along with Northern Kentucky-Cincinnati are the only two major U.S. regions without a fixed transportation system — referring to either true Bus Rapid Transit corridors or rail lines.
“The bad news is you haven’t done anything yet,” Mica said, referring in part to Miami being ahead of Tampa with its multimodal transportation center adjacent to Miami International Airport. That’s a concept Tampa officials are eager to emulate in the Westshore area with a PeopleMover link to the Tampa International Airport.
“The good news,” Mica said, “is you haven’t screwed anything up yet.”
Steinman, a newcomer to the area who FDOT named in February to oversee projects in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties, was one of 15 speakers.
He shared an anecdote from a visit to the $2 billion Miami Intermodal Center that provides transportation services to the airport and nearby counties.
“They said when their people went (for funding) to Tallahassee, and when they went to Washington, D.C., they pulled it off by being in lock step,” Steinman said. “They were on the same page,” adding that would be an appropriate strategy locally.
Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority board members from a seven-county area have expressed similar thoughts on previous occasions at how Orlando has managed to gain billions in state funding for a highway circulator around the city, improvements along Interstate 4 that will include managed lanes to speed traffic, and funding for the 61-mile SunRail commuter train whose first phase will begin operation in 2014.
They believe that Orlando interests have excelled at setting priorities while Tampa Bay elected officials, planners and business officials frequently approach funding sources with differing requests, which hurts the area’s prospects.
One such issue involves the possible use of CSX freight track for a commuter rail system, which TBARTA continues to pursue, TBARTA chairman Ronnie Duncan said at Thursday’s summit.
CSX has said in the past they were opposed to discussing issues with multiple interests with different objectives.
Tampa International Airport Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano challenged the officials to think as creatively as former airport director George Bean and other local aviation authority leaders did in planning the airport’s innovative terminal in 1971 when it became the first in the world to use People Movers to link the main terminal with outlying airside terminals where passengers got on and off their flights.
“The first airport PeopleMover was here, not in Orlando, not Shanghai, but here in Tampa,” Lopano said. “What can we do to be (thinking) like those guys 45 years ago?”