Three highs across Tampa Bay and Florida | Editorial
Among this week’s highlights: Good news on passenger rail, opening Tampa’s waterfront and helping manatees
A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in at the station in Fort Lauderdale.
A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in at the station in Fort Lauderdale.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published June 4, 2022

Rail along I-4. Great news for anyone who commutes along the death trap known as I-4. The federal government announced this week it would kick in nearly $16 million to promote a high-speed train between Tampa and Orlando. The federal grant will pay for half the preliminary engineering costs for the planned 67-mile Tampa-to-Orlando route; the privately owned passenger service provider, Brightline Florida, will match the grant. Brightline already operates passenger service between Miami and West Palm Beach. A second phase, between West Palm Beach and Orlando, is under construction and expected to be open this year. A third segment, between Orlando and Tampa, could be operating before the end of the decade. This is a long-awaited dream that could better connect Tampa Bay with Central Florida, bringing new business, travel and entertainment opportunities. Let’s hope it happens.

Open Tampa waterfront. Speaking of smarter transportation planning, Port Tampa Bay officials agreed recently to explore opening up a piece of downtown waterfront to public use. Downtown Tampa boosters have long wanted to open up a parcel of land behind cruise ship Terminal 2, which is used for cruise ships only about 30 days a year. The property sits in a prime spot between the Sparkman Wharf complex and the Florida Aquarium, and it’s also close to where the popular 2.6-mile Riverwalk ends. Ideally, it’d be another walkable connection in a fast-growing downtown. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has lent her influential support. Let’s hope the port authority, as it examines any security or logistical concerns, focuses on one goal: How to make this happen. The downtown waterfront is hugely popular, and we need to hear solutions for adding this valuable piece. And it shouldn’t take an eternity.

Saving the manatee. Federal wildlife officials have agreed to reconsider what parts of Florida are most important to the state’s beloved manatees, which advocates hope is a critical step toward rebuilding the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose an adjustment to its definition of “critical habitat” for manatees by late 2024, under an agreement with several environmental groups to resolve a lawsuit over the matter. The lawsuit was meant to light a fire under the Fish and Wildlife Service to reexamine “critical habitat” that is essential to conserving the manatee, including estuaries and waterways such as Kings Bay at Crystal River. Advocates say the revision should identify not just places where manatees live, but specific elements they need to survive, like warm water from Florida springs and seagrasses to eat. Done right, this could also induce the state of Florida to curb waterway pollution.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.