TAMPA — The transit woes afflicting Tampa Bay’s largest city and economic hub are the “single most important, overarching issue facing our community today,” Mayor Jane Castor said Friday.
She delivered that assessment at an event to promote the findings of a transportation advisory board she appointed in June. But its vision of an interlinked pattern of rail, bus, streetcar and pedestrian and bike paths appears contingent on the fate of the 1-cent transit tax approved by voters last year that remains in legal limbo.
Castor is undaunted, saying the city doesn’t have time to wait for a judicial resolution. The voters’ will is clear, she said, vowing to find other sources of money if Tampa’s annual share of more than $30 million in tax revenue doesn’t materialize.
“I would have to take a few moments if that was struck down, then we would stand back up and look for other ways to fund these transportation initiatives,” she said, adding later that pushing for another vote in 2020 would be an “obvious” strategy.
Castor said her team hasn’t added up all the elements in her plan, but acknowledged the price tag will be hefty. Acquiring the CSX train line that bisects downtown alone will be steep, she said.
But she outlined concrete steps that can be taken even if the tax payday doesn’t come.
The city’s Transportation Department, currently part of the Public Works Administration, would become a stand-alone entity under her plan. And planners would begin work on revising the city’s land development code to make it easier to reduce parking, increase density and create more affordable housing for residents who would be more likely to get around without a car.
The mayor enthusiastically embraced “Vision Zero,” a global movement to eliminate pedestrian and bicycle fatalities by improving street safety. Those principles became a flash point in former mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration when he declined to pursue safety improvements on Bay-to-Bay Boulevard that sparked loud community protests.
Castor rolled out her plan on her six-month anniversary of taking office. Transportation issues were prominent in the mayoral campaign with the topic often dominating election forums. Castor picked Harry Cohen, a former city council member and mayoral candidate, to head up the advisory group, which has been working since June to develop the plan.
Cohen is now running for a county commission seat. Castor said state and federal dollars would flow more readily if the city, county and regional transit authority worked together and lobbied “with one loud voice."
“We can do this if we do it together,” she said.
For more details on the plan go to: tampagov.net/t3/transportation