Transportation is the greatest economic challenge facing Tampa Bay today. We’re a fast-growing, vibrant region, but as our population continues to expand, with an estimated 620,000 new residents by 2025, our potential to excel and compete is constrained by a lack of transit options and limited regional connectivity.
While other metro areas across the country have made major investments in their transportation infrastructure throughout the years, Tampa Bay has remained in a holding pattern.
From failed transit referenda to stalled highway projects, our parochial approach to leadership has often resulted in a frustrating lack of progress, and with every day we don’t take action, we continue to fall even further behind.
The business community can’t afford to stand on the sidelines. Solving our transportation challenges is essential to securing our economic future.
The Tampa Bay Partnership formed a Transportation Working Group to explore and identify the steps we must take to move forward. Chaired by Chad Loar (PNC Bank) and TJ Szelistowski (TECO Peoples Gas System), the group includes dozens of business leaders who are eager to advance that vision and the public policy changes that will allow us to accomplish it.
MAJOR TRANSPORTATION INITIATIVES
In 2016, we provided a grant to the Eno Center for Transportation, an independent, non-partisan think tank from Washington, D.C., to help us better understand how successful markets manage their transportation planning and operations. The study showed that these communities plan, implement and operate transportation on a regional level. We need to follow suit if we intend to compete with other metro areas in the U.S. for jobs and talent, and improve the overall economic strength of Tampa Bay.
A Regional Transit Feasibility Plan (RTFP), funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, is currently underway. It will present a multi-county vision for a transit system that we hope will ultimately connect our entire region. When completed in 2018, the RTFP will recommend a catalyst project with a phased implementation plan and prepare an application for state and federal funding, if additional funding sources are required. If we want to act on the recommendations that come from this effort, whatever they may be, we need to have the appropriate regional governance structures in place first.
Transportation leaders from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have initiated a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) study to examine the current single-county transportation planning structure in Tampa Bay; explore best practices for transportation planning in comparable regions; and propose a single, preferred structure for regional transportation planning in Tampa Bay, along with a detailed implementation plan. The Tampa Bay Partnership will serve on the study management team, giving us a seat at the table and a regional voice in shaping the outcome of the report.
Also in progress is Tampa Bay Next, an infrastructure investment program that will modernize our interstates and prepare for future transit. While the controversial project has attracted vocal opponents within certain segments of the community, we believe it’s a critical component of efforts to create an integrated, multi-modal regional transportation system.