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Robert Trigaux

Light rail? High-speed rail? Tampa Bay debates pros and cons for the area



Lightraildallasarerarapidtransit Tampa Bay needs to make some big decisions about whether to start supporting, or not, a light-rail system of trolleys and improved bus service, as well as a separate high-speed rail linebeing potentially waved in front of the Orlando-Tampa corridor by the Obama administration. Neither rail system is a shoo-in by any means, and neither one necessarily depends on the other to happen. (Photo: Light rail in Dallas, courtesy of Dallas Area Rapid Transit.)

I wrote a Sunday column in the St. Petersburg Times exploring both light and high-speed rail topics. The feedback so far has been strong on both sides.

James Klapper of Oldsmar,in an email, said any type of rail was an "absurdity" in a state like Florida. "The only people benefiting from this would be a few rail fans and a lot of real estate interests," he wrote. "The developers get the chance at dense developments around rail stops, making huge profits."

Klapper also sent me a link to today's Washington Post column by Robert Samuelson which strongly condemns the Obama administration's support for high-speed rail and its failure to look at high-speed's poor history on delivering on what it promised.

In Tampa, Ron Thuemler writes that a full multi-modal (as in rail plus bus) will be key in the future for this area.

 "A vastly improved and reliable bus system is the vital link to making rail really work. On it’s own, buses are still the life-blood of how many people get around, and we must invest more in them to provide more frequent stops in more areas. In this case I really believe if we build it, they will come-especially when gas prices start to go crazy again, and they will."

HARTlinebusThomas Goethe A better bus service is seconded by former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman. (Photo: HART line bus in Tampa by Thomas Goethe, St. Petersburg Times.) Freedman writes:

"Sure, rail would take our area to the next level. But it won't work without a coordinated and comprehensive area investment NOW in buses as a prelude. The step we must take first is to educate our leaders and community that we must find the resources and build such a system today while we develop and plan the rail system of tomorrow."

Meanwhile, Tampa resident P.J. Jaccoi wonders:

"I moved to Tampa 17 years ago from NYC and know something about the subject.  Let me say up front that the idea has merit. Unfortunately, it is far too late in the game to lay train tracks and install passenger stations in this town.
"Where will the tracks run?  Will we rip up Kennedy Blvd and Dale Mabry Hwy?  Probably not.   If you put a commuter line on Dale Mabry, where will the stations be?   Perhaps at Waters Avenue, Fletcher Avenue or Bearss Avenue.  Great, but, where would you build the station?  Will you knock down existing businesses to build the station?  Will there by public parking?   Probably not, as all of the prime real-estate has long since been gobbled up by private industry."

All good insights on all sides. I'll share more of them. Keep them coming to [email protected]. We're just in the opening innings of this regional transportation debate. Learn more about the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority's "master plan" here.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:25am]


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