TAMPA — State government is unable to pay for all the roads, bridges, buses and trains needed to keep up with Florida’s population growth, so look for more reliance on toll roads, managed lanes and public-private partnerships.
That’s one of the predictions made Wednesday by Paul Steinman, secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation district that includes the Tampa Bay area. Steinman, talking to elected officials on Hillsborough County’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group, said gas taxes are unsustainable as a funding source for road and bridge building because cars are getting better gas mileage and more younger people are opting for mass transit.
“There’s no way the state of Florida can be all things to all people,” Steinman said.
Steinman also said new technologies, such as driverless vehicles and smart roads, are closer to reality than most people think.
“Honest to God, Nissan, Toyota and GM are going to have autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020,” Steinman said.
The changing transportation landscape and funding shortfalls mean state and local governments must plan and work together as they make decisions that will impact the economy for decades, he said.
“Which is why I’m saying we need to have a partnership and people have to be talking together,” Steinman said after the meeting. “What are our priorities? Because we can’t fund everything.”
Hillsborough County has already taken steps toward collaboration in planning the county’s transportation future. The policy group Steinman addressed Wednesday includes all seven Hillsborough County commissioners, the mayors of the county’s three cities and the chair of the board that runs the county’s HART bus system.
County commissioners formed the group in April to look for solutions to the county’s clogged transportation systems, with an emphasis on projects that promote economic development. The group is expected to finish its hearings in December and will hand over its work in February.
But Steinman said drivers and users of mass transit don’t recognize city limits and county lines. Transportation solutions need to be regional, with leaders from adjoining counties making decisions jointly.
One example of regional planning underway is an effort to replace the eastbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge. The bridge, built in 1959, is near the end of its lifespan.
Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit Connect Tampa Bay group, sent an open email Wednesday to the transportation department calling for the agency to add lanes and mass transit to the Howard Frankland Bridge and the Interstate 275 corridor.
Thurman cited the $8 billion that will be spent to build and operate Orlando’s Ultimate I-4 Corridor, including eight interstate lanes, four express lanes and commuter rail service. The transportation department is looking for private companies to help pay for the project in return for concessions. The express lanes will be user-funded.
“FDOT deserved credit for creating a modern mix of transportation options in Orlando, but we believe Tampa Bay taxpayers deserve the same,” Thurman said in the email.
The I-275 corridor between Tampa and Pinellas County handles 20 percent more traffic than the Orlando project area but is getting one-tenth the funding, Thurman said.
“That is unacceptable,” he said.
Steinman disagreed with Thurman’s assessment, saying the volume of traffic through Orlando on I-4 is heavier than on the I-275 corridor spanning Old Tampa Bay.