Buckhorn: Tampa Bay needs higher-speed rail

A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in at the station in Fort Lauderdale. [Times photo by Richard Danielson]
A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in at the station in Fort Lauderdale. [Times photo by Richard Danielson]
Published Oct. 2, 2018

Eight years ago, Florida missed an opportunity to connect Tampa and Orlando with a high-speed rail system. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

Traffic congestion and reliable means of transportation are two of the top concerns of almost every citizen I meet. Long commutes affect people's lives, taking away time from their families, and lack of connectivity to jobs limits their opportunities. The city of Tampa is working with public and private sector partners to improve mobility. Making the right decisions today will keep Tampa moving in the right direction for decades to come.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported, I recently led a delegation of Tampa civic leaders on a trip to Miami to ride Brightline, the new passenger rail system that connects Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. We also toured MiamiCentral, the station in downtown Miami. I believe we got a first-hand look at what the future holds for Tampa. Brightline is scheduled to connect to Orlando in 2021, and the company has announced it is engaged in a request for proposal (RFP) process with the state to eventually extend the service to Tampa.

I wanted to ride Brightline to see how it could meet our transportation needs, and I was extremely impressed. The trains and the stations were modern, comfortable and clean. Brightline would be a valuable addition to our region's transportation system. I was also impressed with the transit-oriented development happening near the Brightline stations.

While I was in South Florida, I met with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and learned about the positive impact Brightline is having on their communities. They were proud to show off the multi-modal connectivity between Brightline and local transit systems. These mayors have leveraged the private investment by Brightline to energize their downtowns and create jobs. We can do the same thing in Tampa.

Connecting Tampa and Orlando would increase job growth and workforce connectivity. Furthermore, having Florida's three largest cities connected by higher-speed rail will be good for the entire state's economy.

Building a strong transportation system is not easy and will not happen overnight. While I will not be the mayor who cuts the ribbon on a new multi-modal transportation hub, I will do whatever I can to start the process. Our growth in Tampa must include higher-speed rail, and we need to keep Tampa's future on the right track.

Bob Buckhorn is the mayor of Tampa.