TAMPA — Residents and business leaders of Florida’s third-largest city have long clamored for more reliable public transit, less car-centric planning and expanded walking and biking routes that would bring Tampa firmly into the twenty-first century.
City leaders announced Tuesday morning they’d received a $1.75 million grant from the federal government to launch a new office dedicated to accelerating progress toward that goal.
The funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau, and aims to help clear barriers for transportation projects by funding and encouraging best practices in project planning.
This grant, Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement, puts the city “in a stronger position to finance critical improvements.”
The city’s new regional infrastructure accelerator office will “play a key role in connecting our neighborhoods and region to jobs, businesses, and community,” she said. “It will also help redefine what development can look like when it’s centered around mass transit.”
The grant awarded is less than half of the $4 million the city initially requested to help bring long-yearned-for change to reality.
“The historic disinvestment in transportation and infrastructure is apparent,” the city wrote in its grant application, a copy of which was reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times.
The application detailed six projects the city’s new office would prioritize its detail assessment of. The office will also “evaluate the appetite for a local sales tax measure to support the development” of those projects, which have an estimated combined capital cost of $1.8 billion. They are:
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1. “Premium transit” between Tampa International Airport and downtown
With an estimated design-build cost of $800 million, this 6-year project would connect the Tampa Bay region’s flagship airport with neighborhoods including Westshore, downtown and East Tampa. A dozen vehicles would run along a dedicated guideway, connecting 18 stations along an 8.25-mile route. Annual operations and maintenance costs are estimated at $17 million.
2. Building rapid transit between USF and downtown
Residents and have long clamored for a rapid transit project connecting downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida, with the SunRunner between St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach serving as an aspirational model.
With an estimated construction cost of $50 million and a project timeline of two years, this proposal follows a similar north-south path to Route 1, among Hillsborough transit agency’s most popular bus routes. The agency is awaiting the results of its application for $45 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the project.
3. Extending the streetcar
The sunshine-yellow streetcars that rumble between downtown Tampa and Ybor City offer one of the region’s few reliable and frequent public transit options for those lucky enough to benefit from their 2.7-mile footprint. Modernizing and expanding the route to Tampa Heights would cost an estimated $250 million to construction and $12 million annually to operate and maintain.
In December 2020, the streetcar secured a $67.3 million state grant. But more than two years later, the city has been unable to produce the local match needed to secure the state funding.
4. Preparing for Brightline
Rail company Brightline began operating high-speed trains from Miami to Orlando last month, connecting two major cities in car-loving Florida and testing whether private passenger rail can thrive in the United States. Their next stop? Tampa.
Last year, Brightline received a $15.9 million federal grant toward the preliminary design efforts for the Tampa-Orlando connection. Tampa’s new Regional Infrastructure Accelerator office ”will prioritize transforming the neighborhood around ... Brightline’s Tampa station into an urban, walkable neighborhood,” according to the city’s grant application. The project is estimated to take three years and $25 million to construct.
5. Transforming the CSX South Tampa corridor
The existing CSX Port Tampa Spur connects downtown to the southwestern-most area of Tampa’s peninsula. Currently, only one train per day uses this route, and the sole CSX customer is slated to relocate in the near future, according to the city.
This corridor has long been identified by various agencies including Hillsborough County and the Florida Department of Transportation as a prime opportunity for fixed-guideway transit and trails. The transformation would take six years and at least $175 million to bring to fruition, according to the city.
6. Building a citywide bike network
Forming a network that offers safe and equitable access for cyclists citywide will take 15 years and cost $500 million to construct, according to city estimates. Streets on the city’s High Injury Network, where the majority of Tampa’s deadly and life-altering injury crashes occur, will be prioritized for restorative improvements.
The new accelerator office will include city mobility director Vik Bhide, chief budget officer Mike Perry and sustainability and resilience officer Whit Remer, plus a new hire to work in mayor’s office, according to the city’s grant application.
In its application, the city pitched the new office as a resource for regional partners and as a catalyst for transformation across Tampa Bay.
“There is risk with a potential pipeline of nearly $1.8 billion in regional infrastructure projects,” the city acknowledged in its application. “However, there is a proven market for transportation services and facilities in Tampa, and the benefits with this scale of improvement program will be transformative to the Tampa Bay Area.”