TAMPA — Local efforts to improve transportation options are more important than ever with Florida set to receive $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money for a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando.
That's the message Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, delivered Monday to local officials during a meeting at Stetson University's law school campus.
Mica was particularly interested in how the high-speed rail terminal downtown would be linked to Tampa International Airport.
"To get people to utilize flying into Tampa to get to Disney or the other tourist areas, you're going to have to have a connection," he said.
And it has to be as easy to use as the one in Orlando, he said, although he stopped short of saying the Tampa airport should have a high-speed rail station.
But he did note that the Orlando airport will have a high-speed rail stop, and planners there are considering coupling it with a light rail line between the airport and convention center.
Tampa's initial plans call for a light rail line to reach the West Shore business district from downtown by 2021. An extension through the airport isn't likely until at least 2027.
Mica has said previously that the high-speed rail line will see the most use between Disney and the Orlando airport and that the Tampa-to-Orlando leg would be a bust, at least in the beginning.
Boosting passenger numbers at TIA will help the Tampa-to-Orlando segment succeed, he said. When told TIA has 18 million passengers a year compared to Orlando's 35 million, Mica said: "We want to get that up."
The ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee visited Tampa as Congress readies for 2011 appropriations.
"I'm willing to do whatever I can to expand those opportunities for you in that final bill so you're covered," he said to the audience, which included Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio; David Armijo, chief executive officer of HART; Bob Clifford, executive director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority; and TBARTA members Ronnie Duncan and Karen Seel, who is also a Pinellas County commissioner.
Armijo acknowledged that one of Hillsborough's biggest challenges is moving people from the high-speed rail station to places like the airport and Busch Gardens.
Mica pledged to do whatever he could to help win voter approval of a referendum on a 1-cent sales tax to help pay for expanded bus service, light rail and road improvements in Hillsborough County.
"Referendums sometimes can be tough," he said after hearing a presentation from Iorio. "The main thing is getting the message across to people of what they're going to get in return."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.