Tampa International Airport's location is the envy of most U.S. cities, adjacent to Florida's largest commercial office district in West Shore and just eight miles from the heart of downtown.
Boston, Las Vegas, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Miami and Fort Lauderdale are among the handful of other major U.S. cities whose airports are within sight of their downtown areas.
But just because the airport is near downtown doesn't mean you can get there quickly, at least by public transportation. Most of HART's weekday schedules between the downtown Marion Transit Center and the airport allow 42 minutes for the trip along Kennedy Boulevard.
It doesn't have to be that way. HART's new Bus Rapid Transit system could speed passengers from the Marion Transit Center to the airport via Interstate 275 in a little more than 15 minutes, a consultant for the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization has reported.
An airport-downtown rapid transit bus would take 22 minutes from Whiting and Polk streets, which are closer to the downtown hotels than the transit center.
A lot would have to happen, though, for such a service to begin.
"It is a hypothetical scenario with no specific implementation timetable, ridership forecast or funding recommendation," said Rich Clarendon, the MPO's senior planning manager/transportation.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority is scheduled to inaugurate Bus Rapid Transit service in the spring between the northeast suburbs and downtown, using conventional buses with technology to change traffic signals to help speed schedules.
But HART currently lacks the buses or funds to operate an additional airport-downtown service beyond the one running along Kennedy Boulevard, even if studies showed the demand for that type of service.
"Our current system does not have bus routes that closely mirror or parallel the MPO's BRT in managed lanes from Marion Transit Center to the airport using I-275; therefore we cannot make any inference on potential ridership projections," HART spokeswoman Marcia Mejia said.
The idea for an express link between downtown and the airport surfaces from time to time, although many transportation experts say express transit links between the Pinellas County beaches and the airport are a higher priority.
Business travelers are likely to use a taxi or hotel-airport van for direct and speedy transportation between the airport and downtown Tampa. But the lack of an alternative - nearly all major U.S. airports are served by both bus and rail service – befuddles local officials.
"How is it I can recruit a non-stop flight between Tampa and Zurich, Switzerland, and I can't get a non-stop bus between downtown Tampa and the airport?" Joe Lopano told two separate civic gatherings two months ago, only somewhat in jest.
Two years ago, Hillsborough County voters defeated a proposal to increase the sales tax by one cent to launch light rail between the northeast suburbs, downtown and the airport, along with countywide bus and highway improvements.
Despite conventional wisdom that the downtown-airport corridor would be in high demand, studies prepared for federal funding requests for Tampa light rail predicted daily ridership of only 6,250 passengers on a route paralleling I-275 between downtown and the airport. That's barely a third of the projected 16,500 daily riders between downtown and the northeast.
A consultant's post-referendum analysis showed running rapid transit bus service between the airport and downtown would cost $1.8 million to $3 million for operations and maintenance annually, depending on frequency of service and the number of vehicles. Capital costs for equipment were not calculated.