Tampa gets millions from Feds to spread Riverwalk love

Two transportation grants totalling $50 million will be tranformative in spurring development in West Tampa and improving county infrastructure.
Tampa officials hope a federal grant will help spread the economic vitality of the Riverwalk across the Hillsborough River.
Tampa officials hope a federal grant will help spread the economic vitality of the Riverwalk across the Hillsborough River. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sept. 11, 2020

TAMPA — For years, Tampa’s Riverwalk has been seen as the key to spreading downtown’s renaissance across the Hillsborough River.

Now, local elected officials are touting a $24 million federal transportation grant they say will forge closer economic and mobility links between the Riverwalk and West Tampa, paving the way for more affordable housing, green space and sustainable living in a rapidly changing part of the city.

“This (grant) will provide a linchpin component to the mayor’s vision ... by creating access to affordable and workforce development housing, multi-modal transit access and strategic economic development placement for the west side of the river,” wrote Mayor Jane Castor’s spokeswoman Ashley Bauman in a text Friday.

Capturing the flow from the federal spigot was a joint effort between the city, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, and the state’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Bauman said.

A similar federal transportation grant helped complete the original phase of the Riverwalk, noted Congresswoman Castor in a news release, who also lauded the team effort.

Related: Tampa secures $11 million federal grant to finish Riverwalk

“Local leaders have been tremendous partners in helping to secure these infrastructure dollars and build on our shared vision for a safer, friendlier and connected community,” Castor said.

The money will pay for approximately 12 miles of contiguous multi-modal paths separated from vehicle traffic, with complete streets and traffic calming improvements. The project will connect downtown Tampa, the University of Tampa, West Tampa, Tampa Heights, Bayshore, Hyde Park and Ybor City with the multi-modal paths, complete streets and under bridge/over water segments, install new pavement, guard rails, lighting and landscaping and repair seawalls, according to the release.

It’s not just the city that will benefit. The county also received $25 million in the same grant fund to widen and reconstruct the existing interchange with Big Bend Road and Interstate 75, adding bicycle lanes and multi-use paths as well as a roundabout at the intersection of Old Big Bend Road and Bullfrog Creek Road, the release stated.

“Today’s announcement ... is critical as our population grows and addressing the infrastructure needs of our community to ensure our region’s economic competitiveness while improving mobility,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller in the release.

Spreading economic development to West Tampa was an aspiration of former mayor Bob Buckhorn and meets Jane Castor’s vision of sparking jobs, housing and transportation improvements outside of downtown.

“This is a transformative project for the city of Tampa that will lead to significant investments in West Tampa and the West River,” said Jane Castor in a release from her office. “Not only will the continuation of the Riverwalk on the West side of the river provide safe multimodal transportation choices for pedestrians and commuting cyclists, but it will create a world-class destination for the surrounding new and existing neighborhoods.”

The city didn’t immediately have a completion date for the Riverwalk portion of the project as they were just notified Thursday, Bauman said, but it should take from three to five years.

Tampa and Hillsborough County were the only local governments in Florida to receive the BUILD grants, which stand for “Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development."

Related: Jane Castor says Tampa needs to do better on affordable housing

A city plan calls for “West River” to link neighborhoods south of Interstate 275 all the way to Tampa Bay with 1,600 new residential units at various price points.

“Ultimately, over the next 10 years, the goal is to have created a genuinely diverse and economically integrated community,” the plan reads on the city’s website.

Related: West River Redevelopment Plan

Kathy Castor is up for reelection in November, facing Republican businesswoman Christine Y. Quinn.