1. Opinion

Ruth: Stop talking and build a rail line

Published Mar. 22, 2013

In 1973, I arrived in Tampa to start my career as an ink-stained wretch. I was 23. One of the big issues facing the greater Tampa Bay area was whether to spend the money to begin development of a light-rail system stretching across the Howard Frankland Bridge eventually linking Tampa to St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

It was decided by the powers that be there should be extensive discussions on the subject before moving ahead.

It is now 2013, 40 years later. I am 63. And everyone is still talking without so much as a single rail spike to have ever been driven into the ground.

So it should hardly come as a surprise to anyone when the Hillsborough County Commission voted the other day to begin (Ta-Dah!) discussions among the area's government leaders and mayors about the future of transportation. The vote was unanimous, not that it takes a whole lot of profiles in courage to come out in favor of blabbing.

Or put another way, it only took 15 years to build the Parthenon but we can't seem to figure out a way to get a choo-choo roughly 7 miles from one side of Tampa Bay to the other.

For four decades we have talked, ruminated, discussed, debated and mused. We have had seminars, conferences, retreats, summits, forums and symposiums. We have had committees, blue ribbon panels, task forces, commissions, workshops and interagency thumb-sucking groups.

We have yada-yada-yadaed and blah-blah-blahed ourselves into a stupor.

I am absolutely convinced there is a cavernous warehouse somewhere 10 times the size of one in the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark busting at the seams with all the studies, mock-ups, cost analysis, investigations, focus groups, surveys and quantitative and qualitative explorations of mass transit.

Or put another way, it only took nine years to build the primary section of the Great Wall of China, and we can't get a light-rail line to the Delta departure door at Tampa International Airport.

But we sure as the dickens can yammer on endlessly about it.

How to put this as gently and diplomatically as possible: Could everyone please, please, please just shut up and get this thing built before I'm 103?

Despite all the fretting, the whining, the hand-wringing and a level of petty parochialism that makes the Little Rascals seem like the Algonquin Round Table, this region will never reach its full potential until a comprehensive light-rail system is put in place.

We need yet another protracted round of pontificating pols to figure this out?

Tampa Bay remains the last major metropolitan area in the United States without a public transportation system making use of bus and rail lines.

There is a perfect solution to end the chattering and begin the construction. For the next six months all the key decisionmakers, from the county commissioners and city council members of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Temple Terrace and Plant City, along with all the mayors, should simply be required to experience my daily 66-mile round trip commute across the bay, which I share bumper-to-bumper with tens of thousands of other drivers. Any bets we wouldn't be breaking ground within a week?

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Or put another way, Moses will have spent less time wandering in the desert than it's taken to figure out a way to build a rail stop in downtown Tampa. What should we call this? A Tower of Urban Babel?


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