National News

Tampa Bay area mayors: Transportation problems hurt economic development

Posted June 10, 2018 6:06 p.m. EDT

TAMPA -- The mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater agreed Tuesday, as they have before, that not having a better transportation system is the most serious disadvantage the area has when it tries to recruit business.

"The biggest regret of my eight years, when I leave office next May, is the fact we haven't moved the needle on transportation," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told about 450 attendees at the annual lunch for CREW Tampa Bay, a networking group for women working in commercial real estate.

That means the region should have bus rapid transit, ride-sharing, autonomous vehicles, "and, yes, for parts of the community, rail has got to be part of the solution," Buckhorn said. "Rail for urban areas is critical."

In Hillsborough, the County Commission should let voters countywide "choose for themselves what they want their future to look like," the mayor said. Similarly, he said, the Legislature should let individual cities such as Tampa hold referendums on enacting a tax for transportation.

Without a dedicated revenue source that can be used to match federal transportation funds and repay money borrowed from the bond market, "we're just taping it together with duct tape," Buckhorn said.

"It's not just a quality of life issue; it's an economic development issue," said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who also supported having the authority to do a city-only referendum. "We are at a competitive disadvantage without having serious mass transit options available to us."

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who spent years in Washington as an aide to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, said new businesses have grown up around Metro stops there, while the bay area has seen congestion worsen.

"Maryland, D.C., and Virginia can get together and come up with a transit alternative system, and we can't get two counties together to decide what to do and how to do it to benefit all of us," he said. "That's an embarrassment for every one of us."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.