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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014
Commentary

Tampa Bay is rising

Published:

Tampa Bay is poised to become one of a the best performing metros in America, fueled by a re-energized effort to link high-wage, tech-driven, economic development to a vibrant and diverse transportation network.

We have been down this road before. In his 1988 best-selling book “Megatrends,” John Naisbitt declared Tampa “the next great city.” But we lost our way, mollified by a frenzy of suburban home building and the promise that sprawl would pay for itself.

We chased a chimera and caught the down draft of a housing bubble that exposed the weak underbelly of metros comprised of subdivisions and strip malls linked by roads insufficient to meet demand.

A key finding from a 2011 Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) report on transportation stated the “county has constantly been in catch-up mode, adding transportation infrastructure long after the traffic pressure from residential and commercial development have reached problematic levels.”

This assessment was recently validated by INRIX, a leading tech provider in traffic services, when it reported that the Tampa Bay area ranks in the top 25 for most congested cities in America.

Yet our future has never been brighter. I attended a conference hosted by Moffitt Cancer Center in late February on the Business of Biotech that affirmed the wisdom of Hillsborough County’s investment in the life sciences.

One speaker attributed Tampa Bay’s maturing life science sector and talented workforce as partial reason for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s decision to locate its new North American Capability Center just eight minutes from Tampa International Airport. This assessment validates a recent report by WalletHub.com that ranks Tampa the third-best city in the country to find a job.

We are also taking methodical steps to change the dynamic of transportation in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough County’s prescient administrator, Mike Merrill, has led a one-year transportation initiative approved by the Board of County Commission in March of 2013. The commission established a Transportation Policy Leadership Group made up of the board, the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and HART’s chairman.

The group’s mission has been to consider options for linking our economic development areas to better and smarter roads, premium bus service, toll lanes, and rail.

Tampa Bay is looking ahead, catching a millennial-inspired wave that reflects record transit ridership for 2013 across America and a young, energized, entrepreneurial-minded workforce abandoning gridlock and long commutes for alternatives that afford a bustling metropolitan lifestyle. The Hillsborough MPO’s just-concluded Imagine 2040 study clearly captures this attitude with thousands of respondents voting for a metro environment and transit.

No, we are not abandoning our suburbs, just the opposite. We are going to connect them to our economic development areas, while taking advantage of Gov. Rick Scott’s recent decision to help fund the Tampa International Airport’s new consolidated rental car facility and a 1.2-mile “People Mover” that will connect the main terminal to the rental car facility. The Tampa Bay Partnership has also asked me to chair their Westshore Multimodal Facility committee, emphasizing it as one of their four high priorities.

The Westshore Multimodal Facility promises to be a premier transportation hub that will link to the airport and region’s economic development areas, helping us attract more visitors and business, which will fuel even more job creation.

This and much more point to a Tampa Bay region that is now prepared to walk the walk in our collaborative effort to couple high-wage jobs with a modern transportation system that will help us attract and retain a quality workforce. Tampa Bay is rising.

Mark Sharpe is chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission.

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