Transportation – TED Speaks, Sort Of
— The Ideas
This week there was the roll out of the Transportation for Economic Development committee’s ideas (with a caveat) for improving transportation in Hillsborough County.
If the Tampa area is to attract young professionals, families and businesses, transportation must be transformed, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said Tuesday in announcing a plan to make that happen.
As you read along, you will realize why that is indeed quite optimistic.
Ok, what do they suggest?
Some details from the Times:
- Express routes for buses and light rail on a 5-mile corridor between West Shore Boulevard and downtown Tampa.
- Bus routes and light rail connecting downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida.
- Increased bus service along N Dale Mabry Highway near Raymond James Stadium.
- Improvements to the multi-use Bypass Canal Trail and a link that connects east and west Tampa neighborhoods to the Riverwalk.
- Upgrading and replacing bridges while widening and repaving roads in the county.
The entity that now manages the county’s bus system, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, would be formed into a new agency to make decisions on mass transit, including construction and contracting with private companies.
And from the Tribune:
♦ A rapid transit corridor connecting Westshore to downtown Tampa via Cypress Avenue, $250 million to $800 million for construction, depending on whether bus or rail is built. Operating costs would be $5.6 million to $9.2 million annually. Some of those costs could be offset by federal funding.
♦ A transit corridor linking downtown Tampa with the University of South Florida, starting as an express-type bus service with limited stops known as bus rapid transit — with development later into a light rail line. Capital costs $515 million to $1.5 billion; operating costs between $11.8 million and $19.4 million annually. The Florida Department of Transportation also plans to improve this corridor by putting express toll lanes on Interstate 275.
♦ Bus rapid transit on an expanded U.S. Highway 60 east to Brandon. Capital costs, $835 million to $1.5 billion; annual operating costs, $19 million. The state transportation department plans to expand capacity of Interstate 4 east northeast to Thonotosassa, Seffner and Plant City with express toll lanes.
♦ Service using what are described as “premium” buses on Dale Mabry Highway connecting Raymond James Stadium, Hillsborough Community College, George M. Steinbrenner Field, Carrollwood and Lutz. Capital costs, $630 million to $1.1 billion; operating costs, $14.4 million annually.
♦ A water ferry connecting Gibsonton and MacDill Air Force Base. Capital costs $25 million. A private company would handle operating costs. Ferry service could later be expanded to link Tampa and St. Petersburg.
First, that is a good outline of possibilities. The corridors identified have long been identified (Actually much of what is said appears to be like the 2010 referendum proposal but with even fewer specifics.) Second, it covers the whole county. (Though NW Hillsborough does not seem to get much except “premium” bus service, and we have no idea why that would costs more than $630 million to $1.1 billion.) Third, it addresses roads, bikes, and sidewalks (though how we build will also have to be changed to make it useful), with a list of such projects here. And it has some ambitious ideas, even if they are only ideas and not a plan. In all those ways it is generally good.
Unfortunately, it is quite vague because it does not actually tell us what will be built, just where. (Between downtown and Westshore, there could be rail or there could be BRT or they could just be express buses, or even pods, you really don’t know. That will be figured out later.) You can see the draft video explaining all this here:
The video just shows you how unfinished the work is. While the video points to where “fixed guideways” may go, it does not tell you technology will be used and only discusses a range of option and costs. Despite the reporting, there really is not a level of detail, except for the non-transit items.
— The Caveat(s)
So what is the caveat? First:
So this is not the actual proposal but a proposal to present a proposal. Anything else?
The sales tax would pay for the bulk of the work, but not all of it. The county is counting on state and federal grants to help with construction costs. Some operating costs would be covered by fares, and private companies may be invested in construction, operations or both, Merrill said.
Merrill unfurled the list, nearly 4 feet long, at the briefing. In the coming months, the projects will be winnowed by public comments at several meetings, said Luicia Garsays, the county’s chief administrator of development and infrastructure services.
In other words, it is a proposal to vote to create a proposal to take to the public to then whittle down into an actual proposal/plan. All the hard decisions remain to be made. As such, it runs the risk of 1) getting kicked down the road once again or 2) getting bogged down in all the politics that have dogged transportation in this area for decades. (Frankly, those politics are probably why this plan is so vague – far vaguer than Greenlight Pinellas.)
We understand that the TED group wants public input about their ideas, and that is admirable, but they could have had that long ago when the process started. (For instance, they had public workshops which none of the committee members attended. What was the point of that?) The result of the delay in public input is more delay in having a real plan and a more squeezed campaign should it go to referendum.
We understand that the TED committee is trying to be balanced, both geographically and in the projects about which they are thinking, in their approach to transportation. We commend them for that. We also like a number of the ideas they have put forward. We have nothing against that. Our concern is that, if the last referendum showed anything, it showed that you need a real plan, not a series of proposals that can easily change. Even the video on the ideas says that the “challenge is to determine the mode” of connecting the main economic centers of the area (video @ 4:24) That was what the TED committee was supposed to do. Right now the whole debate over what to put in the transit portion of the plan, be it rail, buses or roads, is still there. (Probably a fudge to see what happens in Greenlight before making a real proposal.)
All that is going to lead to the same unconstructive debate and misinformation we have seen for years, such as this from the head of Ax the Tax:
While that seems like an attempt to appear reasonable, the same person, who is from Orlando, when talking about Greenlight and a poll he commissioned about it, said this (previously reported by the same paper):
So he clearly 1) does not really care about buses and their riders and 2) does not understand the idea behind modern transit. And that debate (especially if we need modern transit or that of some small southern city circa 1975) is going to happen before there is even a plan on which to vote.
The bottom line is this: this week’s announcement is a first step – and not a bad one – but there is much work to be done before this becomes a real plan/proposal about which people can be reasonably expected to decide.
So when one commissioner said this:
We have to disagree. It is a good start, but it is not a plan; it is a series of ideas. We look forward to one day having a real plan. Then can decide if it is worth supporting and, if so, maybe get enthusiastic.
— And One More Thing
And then there is this:
“The plan is not perfect, but I think it’s pretty close,” he said. “Ultimately, a culture is hard to change, but young people are moving fast, making decisions where they live and want to work. They’re capable of adjusting on the fly, adopting new technology without a sweat. They are looking to communities that are capable of delivering. If you can’t deliver, the future is going to pass you by.”
Indeed, it is true, at least the part about culture and people’s choices. So ask yourself this when looking at “fixed guideway” projects – why should a young person who can live anywhere or a business which can go anywhere (the kind we are trying to attract) move to a place where they are promised bus service when they can go somewhere with bus, rail, roads, and a built environment that is walkable, where all that exists and is being expanded? What is the argument you make? Are you really trying to compete or just give the veneer of competing?
In other words, cost is a concern, but it is not the only concern. If you want to compete, you have to deliver something as good or better than what is in other places. You need to have real quality – not just tell yourself it is quality (because, like we can with the airport which was definitely not the cheapest plan, other places can show quality transit and urban environment already in place).
Don’t just do something because it is the cheapest option, because you will pay later. (think the Trop) Do it right.
Transportation – The Quality of the PTC
This week there was much news of a meeting on the hotel business in Hillsborough County and how that business is doing well. (see here) That is fine. There was one matter that surfaced in the comments of the most quoted local hotel expert:
After a pause, he got going: “It’s deplorable, embarrassing. It’s the first experience our guests have when they come into my community, and they have to sit in that pigsty. There are dirty cabs; the drivers are in shorts. They try to talk you out of using your credit card ‘cause it costs them a fee. The cabs are our industry’s first line of contact. It’s inexcusable.”
When asked what moves the hotel business could make to alleviate the problem, Plasencia replied, “Bring in outside oversight. And if you think the PTC (Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission) constitutes outside oversight, you’re sorely mistaken.”
The PTC tells us they exist for quality and safety control. Apparently the expert disagrees. And there are knock-on effects of that failure.
Then there was this:
Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, took the microphone and added, “With [ridesharing] options entering the market, the competition has caused renewed interest by the cab companies and PTC to up their game.”
Not good. Subsequently, the Times ran a story that basically contested his description which you can read here. You can decide who you want to believe, but the feeling is out there.
Not only does the PTC inhibit competition, it seems the hospitality industry does not think it does its primary job (well, at least the job the PTC is supposed to do, not the job it has really chosen for itself – which is stifling competition) well.
Where is all that reform?
Transportation – Gateway Express
There was news about the Gateway Express project to build an expressway through central Pinellas.
With much fanfare, Gov. Rick Scott announced in February that the state would in 2017 start construction on a $337 million expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19, advancing the unfunded project forward by as much as 20 years.
Just five months later, Florida Department of Transportation officials say the new route, which will include elevated toll roads, will cost about $454 million, $116 million more than first announced. Most of the extra expense is from buying right-of-way along the route, a cost estimated at $93.5 million.
That’s understandable. Transportation projects often cost more than projected – and not only rail (take note opponents of Greenlight and the TED committee). And it is not cheap overall, either. On the other hand, the road, if done right, will still help transportation in Pinellas quite a bit.
How much will it cost to use?
DOT officials revealed the cost of right-of-way purchases to the Pinellas County Commission at a workshop Tuesday. They also announced that the toll to drive elevated sections to avoid stoplights will be 75 cents, and that the five-year construction schedule also could make life complicated for the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.
75 cents is a fair, possibly slightly low, toll. But is that what it will actually cost?
That is likely to be the cost of a one-way toll for the planned Gateway Express, an elevated expressway that is slated to open in 2021, state transportation officials told the County Commission this week.
At some point the toll will become “variable,” adjusted in real time based on congestion levels, said Debbie Hunt, planning director for the Florida Department of Transportation. The toll amount will be displayed on overhead electronic signs before each entrance so drivers have time to decide to use the express lanes or stay in the free local lanes.
No. It will have variable pricing. So let’s review the idea behind variable pricing:
In other words, the prices are increased to make sure that people do not use the road enough to cause congestion – which means the amount of relief it brings to the surface roads is limited. And by “thriftier” they mean both people who do not want to pay and people who cannot the excessive variable rate. And the price will keep going up.
A variable tolling system — what some refer to as the “Lexus lane” — has been in place in Miami since 2008, when the Interstate 95 Express lanes opened. Officials were surprised by how many drivers were willing to pay a premium to use the 7-mile segment, so this year the DOT increased the maximum toll from $7 to $10.50.
At least in Miami, the “express” lanes are just part of the expressway – so other people can use the other lanes. In Pinellas, you will be stuck on the surface roads unless you keep paying higher tolls. The whole point of the pricing is to push people out of the “Lexus lanes,” which seems an odd strategy for relieving traffic.
We have nothing against the road or tolls, but the idea that the purpose of the tolls is to keep people off the road is a strange public policy, and definitely not one that serves the vast majority of people driving through that area.
Greenlight – Who Cares About Accuracy?
While the opponents of Greenlight have apparently spent most of their energy trying to investigate PSTA for things not directly related to the Greenlight Proposal (so far nothing has been dug up), it seems that some of the opponents themselves may have some issues.
Ax the Tax, a political committee formed in 1982 by Doug Guetzloe of Orlando, made its first foray into the debate with a telephone poll this week that Guetzloe says shows overwhelming opposition to what he calls the “light rail tax.”
Setting aside that maybe it should focus on its home in Orlando that seems to have no problem getting rail, what have they done?
The call coincided with Orlando citizens group Ax the Tax release of a poll it said showed 55 percent of 764 residents who voted in 2010 and 2012 general elections planned to vote against Greenlight. The margin of error was 3.5 percent.
The poll, conducted by local firm StPetePolls, followed a script written by Ax the Tax. It made no mention of the plan’s expansion of bus service, but focused on the more controversial light-rail component of Greenlight, claiming that the 24-mile network would cost every household more than $4,000.
The survey differs sharply from an internal poll of 402 likely voters conducted in early June for Friends of Greenlight that showed 59 percent support for Greenlight. The poll was conducted by SGS, a political consultant based in Gainesville. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.
Ok, so they performed a poll that even the pollster who performed it said was skewed. (And note this is not the first poll commissioned by someone opposed to Greenlight that the pollster who performed it. See “Transportation – Why Polls Do Not Matter, Especially This Early”) So, what did the person who commissioned the poll say (and here we quote what was also quoted in the first item. Our apologies):
Yea, those people don’t count. . .
This indicates the entire problem with 1) our transit system as it is and 2) the opponents of fixing it. The entire attitude of the present systems is that transit is for people with no choice and that they are not relevant. That has shown in how it has been (and is) funded, planned, and executed right now. That is why most people have no choices. The entire concept of having proper functioning services and improving the area has been foreign (Euro-socialist of course, like Texas and Utah). The reality is that this attitude is the basic attitude local government has taken towards transit for a long time, even though that seems to be changing. Of course, most other metro areas in the US have a different attitude, but it is what it is – and it shows in our per capita gross metropolitan product.
Anyway, what did the local Greenlight opponents think of all that?
They don’t care if it is skewed. Shenanigan, yes, but just the usual stuff dealing with Greenlight.
So who is the guy behind Ax the Tax?
[Guetzloe] was indicted by an Orange County grand jury in 2007, accused of lying under oath about who paid for some controversial mailers and advertisements in Daytona Beach City Commission races. Prosecutors dropped the perjury charge after a key witness died. Guetzloe called the charge “bogus.”
He was convicted in 2010 on a misdemeanor charge of sending a political mailer that did not include the required disclaimer identifying it as a paid electioneering communication. An appellate court called the anonymous mailers about a Winter Park mayoral candidate a “quintessential smear campaign.” Guetzloe later admitted he used about $15,000 of his own money for the mailings. He served about 40 days of a 60-day jail sentence but points out that the statute he violated was found unconstitutional and has since been changed.
In 2012, Guetzloe was found guilty on misdemeanor charges of failing to file federal income tax returns and served about a year in a minimum security prison camp. He acknowledges the returns were late but said he paid the taxes in advance.
It should be noted that the local opponents are not clearly working with the Orlando group, but there is no indication they have any problem with his involvement. Apparently, rules are just for other people, just like transit.
At least, now that is clear.
Downtown – Goings On
Last week there were a number of reports about projects downtown. Some were basically summaries of what we already knew, while others provided some new information.
– Conflicting Info On the Martin
Those who follow such things know that the proposal for the Martin has been around for a while. Moreover, there have been numerous rumors of when it will actually start and how the plan might be changing. Last week was no different, per the Business Journal.
Mercury will partner with Daniel Corp. on the apartment-and-retail development proposed on the block between East Twiggs and Madison streets, along Meridian Avenue, Principal Ken Stoltenberg said Friday.
Ok, well that is good. But then there was this:
The project will be smaller than the original plans— nine or 10 stories, Stoltenberg said, which is considered a high rise by the City of Tampa’s code standards, but not by the capital markets, which should also help with the financing of the project. He said the building will be highly amenitized, with a heated saltwater pool and an eighth-floor clubhouse with 270-degree views of the city that includes a covered outdoor bar and entertainment area with big-screen TVs.
The original plan was 23 stories, so that would be disappointing. The Channel District could use more density and preservation of some sight lines. Building squat buildings will not accomplish that. On the other hand, the Facebook page for the Grand Central, which was developed by the same group said this on July 27:
So we have no idea what to think.
— Shortly Into the Heart of Downtown
There was news about a proposed complex in the heart of downtown:
An entity related to the Richman Group, a Connecticut-based apartment owner and developer, paid about $11 million to assemble roughly 4 acres of downtown Tampa land from two different sellers in a deal that closed Wednesday, according to Hillsborough County property records.
Richman representatives are scheduled to meet with city officials Thursday to review structural renderings, said David Jennings, a construction technician supervisor with the city. Jennings said Richman’s infrastructure site plan, submitted earlier this year, shows a $35 million, five-story apartment complex with a seven-story parking garage planned for the site.
First, initial reports made it sound like the building would be seven stories, so we are not sure if that was a mistake in this report or something changed.
Second, as we said when this project first came to light, a seven story building is fine in many places on the outskirts of downtown, but really seems out of place in the middle of downtown. It is hard to get too excited about it. (Hopefully the Lightning owner will not take his cues from this project when he develops all that land he has acquired.)
— Harbour Island
The Times had an article summarizing information that for the most part was already out there.
On the east side of the Plaza, another partnership between three well-known Tampa developers — Robert Moreyra of Forge Capital Partners, Greg Minder of the Intown Group and Phillip Smith of the Framework Group — is working on plans for a second high-rise.
(For renderings see “Hiku” here and “Downtown Goings On.”) Some of the Plaza residents might lose some of their views, because the original Plaza plan was for three buildings, so this is just following what was considered all along. That does not mean they won’t try to hold it up over something. (Though it seems for now it is not working.)
We shall see.
— A Reality Check
The Business Journal article on the Martin also had this, which is interesting:
The financing has proven challenging, Stoltenberg said, because no high rise rental projects have been completed in five years, since The Element in Downtown Tampa was finished. Lenders and equity partners base their projections for a real estate developments on the performance of the newest comparable project, and having none as a basis for comparison makes a project more risky.
And there is another dose of reality that cuts through all the hype. (Maybe that is why we do not have a five star hotel yet.) Apparently, the money guys think Tampa is a “second-tier market.” Maybe they shouldn’t and maybe at some point they won’t, but apparently they do.
Hopefully, with some more development, that will change.
Encore – One More Up, a Few to Go
Per 83 degrees media, the Trio building is now welcoming residents.
While we think it could be better, we like Encore and are happy it keeps going. It is definitely improving that area of downtown. We are happy it is progressing. We will be even happier when it is not even remarkable for this area to have a project like it – when it is expected.
Too bad the City decided it had to destroy the Bro Bowl, which takes up a pretty small part of Perry Harvey Park, to move forward with the project. (Especially embarrassing when St. Pete is doing this.)
List of the Week I
Our first list this week was featured in a Times article entitled “Tampa Bay: Better than most, still behind many for ‘best’ business metro area.” It is Forbes list of The Best Places For Business And Careers 2014. You can get the methodology here.
In first place is Raleigh, followed by Des Moines, Provo, Denver, Ft. Collins (CO), Lincoln, OKC, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Nashville, Ogden, Charlotte, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Francisco, Austin, and Greeley (CO).
Florida is shut out of the top 20. The Times tells us:
72nd is nothing to be happy about, though the headline is accurate: we are above the halfway mark.
Even worse, as the Times article tells us, the Tampa Bay area not doing well is apparently not something new:
Tampa Bay economic developers used to compare this metro area against five competing cities (Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Dallas and Raleigh) in a semiannual economic “report card” but discontinued the comparison in the recession when Tampa Bay consistently ranked at or near the bottom.
That is quite telling about both our performance and our approach to economic development.
List of the Week II
Coming in first is Naples (FL), followed by Austin, McAllen (TX), Greeley (CO), Dallas, Cape Coral, Raleigh, Port St. Lucie, Houston, and San Antonio.
So Florida showed up, but only smaller towns.
List of the Week III
Lest you think it is only Forbes bias that keeps the Tampa Bay area low on these lists, you can check out this list (we are not going to put the whole thing): wallethub.com’s most and least recession recovered cities. Just looking at major Florida cities, Miami is 17th, Orlando is 62nd, St. Pete is 63rd, Ft. Lauderdale is 68th, Tampa is 82nd, and Jacksonville is 124th.