Sunday, July 5, 2015

Tampa wishes it had SunRail train

By Walter Slupecki
SunRailRiders Special Correspondent

TAMPA -- Orlando is very fortunate to have increasing transportation options - like SunRail - available to everyone. SunRail provides, and will continue to provide, an affordable and convenient alternative to congested highways like Interstate 4.
Tampa's TECO Streetcar
Eventually, SunRail will be able to get you to and from Orlando International Airport, where you can board your flight without having to worry about paying for parking or getting stuck on the toll roads, or connect to the All Aboard Florida regional train to Miami, Jacksonville, or Tampa.
Without SunRail, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to travel in Metro Orlando right now.
Here in Tampa Bay, where I've lived for the past 24 years, residents have been fighting for better transportation alternatives for decades. While we have been able to restore a small sliver of heritage streetcar service (known as the TECO Line Streetcar and seen in the accompanying photo), our area remains one of the last mid-sized metropolitan regions in the United States that has no meaningful passenger rail network.
Every effort that has been made to improve our public transportation system has been met with funding issues, government inaction, and fierce resistance by those who don't want to pay for something they will likely never use.
Funding alone has been a huge problem for the streetcar; as the original endowment fund has been depleted, and no further funding is presently available. This has caused cuts in service, which in-turn has caused an immense drop in ridership. Currently the streetcar serves a 2.7 mile route that connects downtown Tampa, Channelside and historic Ybor City district.
The city of Tampa and various private interests want the streetcar to be expanded and modernized, and FDOT has agreed to help fund a feasibility study. The rail haters made it clear however, that Hillsborough County should not spend its resources on passenger rail, and some have even called for the streetcar to be privatized.
While the battle between transit advocates and supporters, and the rail haters have been going on for decades now, the transportation network in Tampa Bay has reached a critical point. One of our key interstate highways, I-275, has long exceeded its capacity throughout Hillsborough County, and reconstruction efforts have not helped. In fact, traffic jams along the thoroughfare materialize even on the weekends - forcing drivers to add extra commute time just to get to theme parks, the Gulf Coast beaches, or family outings.
In the midst of funding constraints for transportation, some of the rail haters don't seem to mind costly and wasteful "Lexus Lanes" that are currently being proposed. FDOT is planning what is called the Tampa Bay Express, which would be larger in scale to Ultimate I-4.
Building a modernized and expanded public transit system that includes better bus services, as well as a passenger rail network, would immensely help the Tampa Bay area -- as well as Metro Orlando - deal with increasing traffic congestion, and offer residents additional transportation choices.

Many in Tampa Bay look to SunRail as a model of what can be done in neighboring regions. I strongly believe that expanding SunRail to both Poinciana and DeLand, as well as Orlando International Airport, will help Tampa Bay get the passenger rail network that it desperately needs. I truly hope that SunRail can get the added services that it needs to thrive for many years to come.

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