With $1.75 million in federal funding, Tampa is inaugurating a dedicated office aimed at securing financial support for significant transit initiatives.
For quite some time, the residents and business community in Florida’s third-largest city have been advocating for more dependable public transportation, a shift away from car-centric urban planning, and the expansion of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to bring Tampa into alignment with modern standards.
City officials revealed on Tuesday morning that they have received a $1.75 million grant from the federal government to establish a new office with the specific goal of expediting progress toward these objectives.
The funding originates from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau. Its purpose is to eliminate obstacles to transportation projects by offering financial support and promoting best practices in project planning.
In response to this grant, Mayor Jane Castor stated that it positions the city “in a more robust position to finance essential enhancements.”
The city’s new regional infrastructure accelerator office will “play a key role in connecting our neighborhoods and region to jobs, businesses, and community,” she said. “It will also help redefine what development can look like when it’s centered around mass transit.”
The granted amount falls short of the city’s initial request of $4 million, which was intended to catalyze the much-anticipated transformation.
In their grant application, as per a review by the Tampa Bay Times, the city underlined the stark evidence of a historical lack of investment in transportation and infrastructure.
The application elaborated on six projects that would be given paramount attention by the new office. Additionally, the office will assess the potential for a local sales tax initiative to bolster the development of these projects, which collectively carry an estimated capital cost of $1.8 billion. These projects encompass:
- Enhancing Premium Transit between Tampa International Airport and Downtown: This extensive six-year project, estimated at $800 million for design and construction, aims to establish a premium transit link between Tampa International Airport and key neighborhoods, including Westshore, downtown, and East Tampa. The envisioned system would comprise a dozen vehicles operating on a dedicated guideway, connecting 18 stations along an 8.25-mile route. The annual operation and maintenance expenses are projected at $17 million.
- Developing Rapid Transit from USF to Downtown: Responding to longstanding demands from residents, this $50 million project with a two-year timeline seeks to create a rapid transit connection between downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida. Drawing inspiration from the SunRunner, a popular north-south bus route, this proposal is currently pending a $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- Extending the Streetcar Network: To extend the reach and modernize the current 2.7-mile streetcar system connecting downtown Tampa and Ybor City, an estimated investment of $250 million for construction and $12 million annually for operation and maintenance is required. Despite a $67.3 million state grant secured in December 2020, the city has encountered challenges in providing the necessary local match to access the state funding.
- Preparing for Brightline’s Arrival: Following Brightline’s successful launch of high-speed rail service between Miami and Orlando, this project focuses on the Tampa connection. Tampa’s new Regional Infrastructure Accelerator office is set to prioritize the transformation of the neighborhood surrounding Brightline’s Tampa station into a walkable urban hub. The project is estimated to span three years and cost approximately $25 million, with Brightline having received a $15.9 million federal grant to initiate the preliminary design efforts.
- Revamping the CSX South Tampa Corridor: The current CSX Port Tampa Spur, linking downtown to the southwestern tip of Tampa’s peninsula, sees minimal usage, with just one daily train. Furthermore, the sole CSX customer is expected to relocate soon. Multiple agencies, including Hillsborough County and the Florida Department of Transportation, have long recognized this corridor’s potential for fixed-guideway transit and trails. Realizing this transformation is projected to span six years and necessitate a minimum investment of $175 million.
- Creating a Comprehensive Citywide Bicycle Network: Establishing a citywide bicycle network that prioritizes safe and equitable access for cyclists is a significant undertaking, requiring 15 years and a budget of $500 million according to city estimates. The project focuses on streets within the city’s High Injury Network, where a majority of severe and life-altering traffic accidents occur, to implement crucial safety and accessibility enhancements.
The newly established accelerator office will feature key city officials, including City Mobility Director Vik Bhide, Chief Budget Officer Mike Perry, and Sustainability and Resilience Officer Whit Remer. Additionally, the city plans to hire a new team member to join the mayor’s office, as outlined in the grant application.
In its application, the city positioned the new office as a valuable resource for regional collaborators and a driving force behind transformative initiatives throughout the Tampa Bay area.
“There is risk with a potential pipeline of nearly $1.8 billion in regional infrastructure projects,” the city acknowledged in its application. “However, there is a proven market for transportation services and facilities in Tampa, and the benefits with this scale of improvement program will be transformative to the Tampa Bay Area.”