Tampa’s Grand Central Station and High Line? Harry Cohen is thinking big on transportation

Published November 15 2018
Updated November 15 2018

Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen, an eight-year veteran of City Council, is known for his attention to detail on even the smallest zoning matter.

But in his run to replace term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Cohen is leaving the small-ball approach aside—at least for transportation, an issue for which he's become an increasingly vocal advocate.

On Thursday, Cohen released a big-picture white paper on transportation that shoots for the stars—largely on fuel provided by  $30 million per yer fueled from the one-penny transit tax approved by voters on Nov. 6.

The three-page plan, which debuted at a private fundraiser Wednesday, will be up on Cohen's campaign website later today.

Some Takeaways?

  • A downtown multi-modal transit hub to link up an expected Brightline line from Orlando and whatever mass transit idea gets traction–it might be light rail, maybe buses. For now, Cohen prefers “vehicle.”
  • Next, and perhaps first (Cohen emphasizes his plan is visionary, not a FY2020 budget document), would be acquiring right-of-way beside the Leroy Selmon Expressway as well as the CSX line that bisects the city to build a pedestrian, running and bike trail that he hopes will alleviate the bitter fights over Complete Streets being waged on Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard in recent months.

Much of the cost could be paid with the approximately $30 million a year that the city expects to receive from its share of the citizen initiative to raise the sales tax by a penny, he said.

But maintenance of existing roads, streets and sidewalks is also a priority, he said.

"These are taxpayer dollars, we're gong to spend them responsibly," he said Thursday morning.

Cohen said it's time for the city take bold steps to alleviate increasing gridlock and absorb the massive growth in Channelside, New Tampa and other areas.

But he stressed that his vision would improve transportation all over the city, pointing to a CSX line that runs through East Tampa.

Downtown needs a quick connector to the University of South Florida, he said, leaving out the neighborhoods in between would be "crazy," he said.

If he's elected, Cohen, a long-time member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, would use that experience to guide his transportation thinking: safety, economic development, conservation, connectivity, land-use and anticipated growth planning coordination.

"I've been giving these matters a long of thought. It's not an effort that happened overnight," Cohen said.

Cohen is facing City Council colleague Mike Suarez, former county commissioner Ed Turanchik, former Tampa police chief Jane Castor, retired banker and philanthropist David Straz Jr., branding consultant Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King for the March 5 election.

But more candidates might emerge before the filing period ends January 18.

Transportation has already played a big role in the fledgling campaign.

The issue will likely dominate the next forum on Dec. 11 hosted by Walk Bike Tampa, a local non-profit group that advocates for safer streets and better transit options. The 6 p.m. forum will be held at  Sparkman Wharf in the new Water Street development, 615 Channelside Dr.

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