The transportation plan Tampa Mayor Jane Castor unveiled Friday is as much about the region’s vision as getting millions of people from Point A to Point B. There were no surprising big-ticket projects. But the plan sets the stage for more seamless connections across Tampa Bay, easier commutes between major jobs centers and a fundamentally better approach for creating safer and more livable environments in Tampa’s growing urban core.
The plan comes in the form of recommendations from one of several advisory teams Castor created to examine transportation, housing and other key issues after she took office in May. It reaffirms support for major projects that have been on the drawing board for years, from expanding the Tampa streetcar line north from downtown into the surrounding neighborhoods to connecting downtown, the Westshore business district and the University of South Florida with new mass transit service. The group urges local officials to continue studying the potential use of the CSX rail lines “to determine the most appropriate and feasible type of service to be deployed” on the north-south corridor. It calls on Castor to push hard for an intermodal center in Westshore near Tampa International Airport that could improve connectivity across the entire region, and to lobby for a rail connection between Orlando and Tampa.
The blueprint also fills in important gaps. It calls for expanded bus service, new technologies to help motorists find parking spaces downtown and for elevating the city’s trails and greenways from recreational venues alone into viable transportation options. The panel calls for reorganizing the city’s transportation department to give it a more robust voice, and for rethinking land use policies that now encourage car-centric development. And in a fresh, welcome move, the panel also urges Tampa to adopt a so-called Vision Zero strategy, a series of traffic controls and other measures increasingly incorporated by U.S. cities that seek to reduce traffic deaths and accidents among motorists and pedestrians alike.
Friday’s rollout came almost exactly one year after Hillsborough County voters overwhelmingly supported a new one-cent, local sales tax for transportation improvements. These proposals build on that desire in the cities and suburbs alike for a transportation system that works better for residents and business and that positions the Tampa Bay area for sustained and manageable growth.
The document, though, is more than a planning tool. Its real strength, now with Castor’s blessing, is the ownership she takes on for following through. As the advisory panel notes, “the successful achievement of the recommendations largely depends on the mayor’s leadership and direct involvement.” While it also depends in no small part on Hillsborough’s transportation tax surviving a pending legal challenge, Castor has vowed to push ahead whatever the outcome in court.
No challenge confronts the region more than transportation, and by taking this on so early in her term, Castor is delivering on a campaign promise and assuming an appropriate role as the mayor of the region’s biggest city. This blueprint is a recipe for smart growth and a path toward more regional unity, another step in building a stronger Tampa Bay.
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