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Resolution for Enhanced Tampa-Orlando Train Service Receives Full Backing

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TECO Streetcar Brightline in Tampa

A regional resolution supporting Brightline’s planned construction from Orlando to Tampa — along with increases to Amtrak’s service between the two cities — has been advanced.

Members of the Sun Coast Transportation Planning Alliance and Central Florida MPO Alliance unanimously voted in favor of the non-binding document on June 14 at a meeting in Bartow.

Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, said during his presentation that the Interstate 4 corridor is booming with businesses and residents and needs more travel options. Traffic is at a “breaking point,” the resolution said.

The item didn’t generate discussion, but Hillsborough County Transportation Planning Organization Executive Director Johnny Wong later pointed to planned connections to Brightline’s landing spot in Ybor City as a project he’s proud of. The planning agency will undertake a study of Brightline connections later this year, he said.

“We’re not waiting [for Brightline]. … Ybor City has traditionally been thought of as an entertainment district, but we are seeing a tremendous amount of residential infill, [including] a huge planned development named Gasworx,” Wong said. “While we have a lot of residential coming to the area, what it lacks is the first mile, last mile connections — the one exception being the TECO Streetcar.

“So later this year, we’ll be looking at how we can provide more bus service and allow folks to get to other critical destinations around the Tampa Bay region, including further out west to the beaches, north to the [University of South Florida] area and Pasco County and even south to Sarasota.”

Resolution_Support_More_Trains_Tampa_Orlando

Andrew Morris, a long-range planner for Madeira Beach, submitted a public comment saying that the Florida Legislature needs to allow municipalities to hold transportation sales tax referendums rather than only counties. He also suggested legislation to allow tourist development tax revenue to be used for capital and operating costs of express bus routes.

“I am glad to see the proposal of a resolution on passenger rail in the Interstate 4 corridor,” Morris wrote. “A major elephant in the room is the lack of dedicated local funding for transit projects and transit operating costs in the Tampa Bay metro area. For Brightline and expanded Amtrak service to be effective, the transit connections from downtown Tampa to major destinations in the Tampa Bay metro area would have to be significantly improved.”

Amtrak has already proposed increased service to Tampa as part of its long-range vision. But the increased service to Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville and a range of other cities would need support from the state and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Brightline, meanwhile, is a private company based in Miami that runs 32 trains per day between South Florida and Orlando (or 16 daily departures). Demand is strong, per Brightline, with over 90% of the trains full about one-third of the time. New trains will add capacity in phased rollouts this year and next.

Although Brightline shouldn’t expect state grants to fund its expansion to Tampa, the state is maintaining a corridor for it along I-4 during its Moving Florida Forward construction. The years-long program is the largest infrastructure effort in Florida and will face challenges.

“We’re all very eager for the work to be produced and to see the outcomes,” Blanton said. “But it is a major workforce challenge. Because this amount of money is unprecedented that is being put into transportation projects. Everybody is competing for the same workforce.”

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