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Roundup 11-7-2014

November 7, 2014

Transportation – The Uncertain Path

As everyone knows by now, the Greenlight Pinellas proposal was defeated.

Sixty-two percent voted no on the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum, refusing to pay an extra penny in sales tax to expand the county’s bus service and build a 24-mile light rail system connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The sales tax would have increased to 8 cents on the dollar, eliminated the bus system’s property tax and brought in about $130 million annually for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to make the $2.2 billion plan a reality.

The margin of the loss shocked supporters. It won only two precincts north of 54th Avenue N in St. Petersburg.

In fact, it did worse than the 2010 Hillsborough referendum (which makes one question the analysis that the reason the 2010 referendum lost was the economy.)  This is the map of how the voting went:

Screenshot of Pinellas Election Supervisor website from late night November 4, 2014

One can propose a number of reasons why it failed – PSTA missteps, poor campaign, lack of north Pinellas service, etc.  Clearly, there is a constituency in St. Pete that is different than the rest of the county – but then St. Pete has developed into something of a city, which is different than the rest of the county. It is possible is that there is a disconnect within the parts of the county on aspirations for what they want the county to be.

The Tea Party folks said this:

But it was opponents No Tax for Tracks’ message that resonated with voters. The group warned that having the highest sales tax rate in Florida would hurt business and it questioned the wisdom of building a $1.6 billion train that did not connect directly to Tampa or the county’s beaches.

“Our message of rejecting the highest sales tax in the state was a message people agreed with,” said Barbara Haselden, No Tax campaign manager. “They agree we don’t need a light rail system in Pinellas County.”

Setting aside that the Tea Party opponents were completely anti-rail (and buses) – not only opposing the plan because it did not connect to Tampa or the beaches – the sales tax issue carries some weight.  (Especially when you look at the even worse result in Polk, which had no rail element. . Apparently, it is not about rail.)  It is likely that more creative financing, like Orlando did with SunRail, should be considered.

The news articles had some more “direct” analysis, which probably explains some of the multitude reasons people did not vote for Greenlight.

One man at the Yard of Ale offered the most plainspoken analysis. “It’s typical,” he said. “People come to Florida from elsewhere and say, ‘I’m here and I’m not paying any more taxes. Screw transportation and social services. I have my little piece of paradise and that’s it.’ They don’t realize that their children and grandchildren will pay a helluva lot more than that.”

And

That included St. Petersburg resident Ielise Christensen, who voted against the referendum saying that it made no sense to build a light rail link to Clearwater and not to Tampa.

“I would be completely for it if it had some connection with Tampa,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be going to any main place; what’s the point of using it?”

Both of those have some merit.  There is no question that there are many people in this area who do not want to invest in the area.  It is also true that the lack of a regional approach (something Orlando and almost everywhere else has but the HART/PSTA argument showed this are does not) hurts the effort.  Until the counties stop acting a though they live in their own universe (even if some officials talk as though they see the region, most vote and plan as though they don’t) it appears hard to convince the voters, who live in a region and know it, to pay for disconnected ideas.

While the officials like to stay on their respective sides of the water, it has to be understood that to the people in the region, the connection across the bay is key.  Transit needs to be seen to connect us.

— Meanwhile, Across the Bay

So where does that leave Hillsborough County?

“Obviously, it would’ve been nice to have a victory in Pinellas County because I think it would’ve helped the bay area recognize that we’re all connected,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

“We’re going to go make the case to the voters in Hillsborough County, which I think are far more progressive, far more inclined to believe that our future is better with a robust transportation system,” Buckhorn said. “It’s got to include bus, it’s got to include rail, it’s got to include additional roads, and it’s got to include fixing potholes.”

That is all true – but what is the actual plan?  What do you want to see? (And why are the discussion and plan always outsourced to consultants?)

County Administrator Mike Merrill wants to avoid the snarl of 2010, when the hot-button term “rail” dominated discussions about approving an extra penny of sales tax to help pay for transportation projects. His goal is to build consensus by first asking people what their needs are — instead of jumping into a conversation about whether light rail is the best solution.

“We want to acknowledge it, but we don’t want to go down the path where it’s all about rail,” Merrill said last week. “We really don’t want to get into the habit of saying it’s all about transit. . . . It’s about fixing what we have. Repaving. Safety projects. Community projects. That has as much value as the transit conversation.”

Sure.  It is not all about rail.  On the other hand, the Polk referendum was not about rail, and it did worse than any of the referendums with rail.

People still need to know what they are voting for and being vague will not do that.  Moreover, saying nothing about transit will just lead opponents to say that officials are trying to sneak rail by the voters.

Fixing what we have is necessary, but the real problem is that the County government has not done what needs to be done to maintain what we have and give us what we need in the first place.  It all needs to be done, including be real, effective transit. Better to keep trying and being straightforward – such as relying only on roads will always cost too much, not relieve congestion, and not really develop the economy.

But Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he expects to get an exceptional, methodical product from Parsons Brinckerhoff that starts with a “foundation of why and works toward the how” instead of mistakenly jumping to the conclusion that one particular mode is the solution.

“Rather than going like we did in the past — ‘Everybody else has light rail, why don’t we have light rail?’ — that’s not the case this time,” Sharpe said.

“It really needs to be based upon a careful analysis of our own build-out, how we’re constructed, how we maintain what we currently have, and how best to connect our key economic development areas along defined corridors using current and future technology.”

Aside from expecting an exceptional product (though, we guess it might be true that he expects it), that is all true, but it neglects one major (in reality THE major) point: what do we want to be?  We should not just invest based on what we were or what we are.  The point of investment is to help determine what we will be.

The sprawled, relatively uncompetitive, economically lagging area that we are now is not due to law of nature, it is the result of policies instituted (and often subsidized) by government.  We did not, nor do we in the future, have to be that way.  It was and is a choice, which is made even clearer by places that first made the same choices, then changed direction, like Denver and Phoenix (and here is a good interview with the mayor of Phoenix about transit in that city.)

Will we be a thriving, vibrant, major metropolitan area that competes with the best (not necessarily the biggest, but the best) or will be we bringing up the rear (or will we be some middling area)?  So far, we (voters and government) have chosen the easy and ineffective path (we are getting better but others are still moving ahead faster in terms of development, income, economic power, etc) and to make sure that other areas are far better positioned to compete in the present and near future.

So what will we do in the future?

Stuart Rogel, who rallied corporate support for Greenlight Pinellas as president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Partnership, vowed to train his sights on Hillsborough.

“It’s going to be as important tomorrow as it is today,” said Rogel, who watched the results come in with a subdued crowd at the Yard of Ale in Clearwater.

Yes it is.  In fact, it will become more important as the generations change and other areas develop their infrastructure, built environment, and high wage economies while we lag.

The one consolation is that, as we have noted before, almost every area has to go through numerous referendums to get transit moving forward.  We are not sure the reason for this – maybe the electorate has to become more acquainted with the idea, maybe the officials have to fine tune the plan, maybe both, maybe something else.  Whatever the case, it is not unusual.  The problem is that time is wasting, and we are falling further behind.

— And One More Thing – Irony

Interestingly, the Times had an article that listed some of the failed ideas of the past that brought us to where we are.  It is worth quoting the whole list (because the quotes bold the whole quote, we underlined what was bolded in the original):

Lost highway: A highway running the length of Pinellas, the most densely populated county in Florida, would have been really useful. But the county got left out when the interstate highway system was birthed in the 1950s. When the county finally got included in the 1970s, Interstate 275 only went through southeastern Pinellas, skipping the county’s northern half.

Geography and politics played a role. Tampa, seen as the commercial center of the metro area, got crisscrossed by more highways. Democrats who controlled highway money didn’t want to help Pinellas, then a Republican stronghold. And the parochial concerns of Pinellas’ 24 cities kept politicians from uniting behind a single plan.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater Expressway: In the 1960s, this was envisioned as a toll road linking Pinellas’ two biggest cities. Opposition along the proposed route, an unused railroad, killed it in 1969. That right-of-way later became the bicycle-friendly Pinellas Trail.

Pinellas Parkway: Voters hated this one. It would have been a toll expressway from St. Petersburg to Pasco County, following 49th Street N and what are now McMullen-Booth and East Lake roads.

In a 1976 referendum, it got rejected by an 8-1 ratio. “It was pretty decisive,” Brian Smith, the now-retired Pinellas County planning director, said with a laugh.

That resounding defeat wiped out any future Pinellas toll roads, even as the surrounding counties would go on to build the Selmon and Veterans expressways and the Suncoast Parkway. (The tolled Pinellas Bayway, a product of the ’60s, already existed.)

U.S. 19: So the quest for the long-lost Pinellas north-south freeway shifted by default to U.S. 19, a heavily developed surface road that’s being retrofitted into a limited-access highway. That’s time-consuming and expensive. County Commissioner Karen Seel figures that taxpayers have spent $1 billion on U.S. 19 construction in the last 15 years — most of it on buying rights-of-way for overpasses.

“One overpass on U.S. 19 would have built the North-South Expressway,” Seel said.

Pinellas light rail: Pinellas leaders have kicked around ideas for light rail for 40 years. Until now, they’ve deemed it impractical and too expensive for this car-oriented county.

A decade ago, the last rejected plan envisioned a commuter line following a railroad freight corridor between the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, then heading east to Oldsmar and Westchase, then south to Tampa.

The problem with that route: It’s a terrible way to get to downtown Tampa or Tampa International Airport. It also goes nowhere near the jobs-rich Gateway/Carillon area.

The Greenlight Pinellas route attempts to fix that, and is the county’s first light-rail plan to actually go to voters.

The Monorail: Picture an elevated monorail, like the one at Disney World. In the 1990s, some in Pinellas were proposing this.

The benefits: It wouldn’t disrupt traffic, and no houses would be bulldozed to make way for it.

At least two monorails were in play: A 38-mile line from Clearwater Beach to St. Petersburg, and a 2-mile line from Clearwater Beach to downtown Clearwater. Both were too pricey.

Ferries: Commuter ferries have been proposed for Tampa Bay many times, to no avail. Companies’ attempts to launch a St. Petersburg-to-Tampa water taxi as a business venture foundered. Government officials have never been convinced that a taxpayer-subsidized ferry would be worth it. Now a high-speed ferry linking MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg is in the works — maybe.

Lutz Expressway: It would have run through north Hillsborough, connecting the Veterans Expressway with I-275 and Interstate 75. Protests from Lutz residents killed it in the 1980s.

Bi-County Thruway: Pasco County’s lost road. Conceived in the 1980s, it would have been an east-west toll route linking I-75 with the Trinity area near the Hillsborough-Pasco border. The county scuttled it in the 1990s when traffic projections failed to support building it.

Brandon Beltway: In 2006, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority proposed a 70-mile toll road circling north Manatee, east Hillsborough, south Pasco and north Pinellas. The idea was dropped after critics dubbed it the “sprawlway.”

High-speed rail: In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott killed a high-speed Tampa-to-Orlando rail line that was slated to get $2.4 billion in federal funds. Florida was going to pay a fraction of the cost, $280 million, but Scott fretted that overruns would put state taxpayers on the hook for more cash.

Tampa’s rail plan: That brings us to Tampa Bay’s last transportation referendum. Also, its next one.

In 2010, Hillsborough voters rejected, by 58 to 42 percent, a 1-cent sales tax hike for light rail. Hillsborough officials are now planning a referendum for 2016 — with less emphasis on rail.

They should have added the Gandy Connector. (And we do not endorse all the projects listed, but it just shows how many times this area has rejected attempts to fix things that everyone knew needed fixing).

Everyone says they dislike the congestion and something needs to be done.  The irony is that all those proposed solutions were rejected, some because they were just bad ideas, but most either for political expediency or because people did not want to pay for them. Not surprisingly, the problems did not go away and now we will all pay more – either to fix the problem or suffer the continuing consequences of it.

Even more ironic is that the same areas that say they do not want transit so often rejected roads, which supports the view that a large number of people just don’t want to invest in anything – at least until the thing is built, when many start using it.  Now, even if they want the roads, there is not enough money to pay for them or land to build them (see Veterans Expressway), and, in the rare case some money can be found, the projects take forever – like US19.

The bottom line is that, unless your goal is stagnation, waiting does not solve anything.

USF Medical School – Of Plans

We have been saying since the USF med school move was first revealed to the public that there needs to be a full plan.  We decided to look for an example of a plan, and found one, not surprisingly, in Austin.  The University of Texas in Austin is working to develop a medical school with adjacent hospital (like a medical school really should have).  We thought it would be useful to provide links to some of the planning to see what we mean.  You can see it here and here.  Of course, that entire university is in the center of Austin, so it is a bit different than the USF issue, but at least they have a real development plan and agreement to have a hospital.

And, here you can look at the Buffalo master plan for the downtown medical school, which is more like the USF issue though with a hospital  As you can see by reading the landing page

In 2001, the BNMC was created through a unique partnership in which the University at Buffalo, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Kaleida Health, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, and Buffalo Medical Group Foundation began working in collaboration with the surrounding neighborhoods and local government to cultivate a world-class medical campus in downtown Buffalo. Over the years, Olmsted Center for Sight, Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center, Unyts, and the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care have joined the collaboration.

A critical first step in achieving this goal was the development of a Master Plan & Implementation Strategy to provide a framework for future growth at the medical campus.

In other words, they worked with related institutions to get success for all (whether it works or not is not the point) and had a real plan.

And speaking of a plan, in the coverage of the trustee committee last week, there was this exchange:

But Genshaft said she doesn’t want USF Health split apart forever. One day, she hoped, mass transit could connect the new downtown campus to the main campus. Hillsborough County could vote on such a system in 2016.

“You may shut off our water,” she told the mayor. “But we need that light rail to our Tampa campus. Do you promise?”

“I’ll be out of office,” Buckhorn said. “So yeah.”

It was probably a joke, but it holds an important reality.  There is no guarantee that there will be a real connection anytime soon and that issue is likely to be left to other officials, like so many other issues in the area.  And looking at the list of failed ideas for transportation above, no one can assume there ever will be a real transit connection between a downtown med school and the main campus (or TGH or planned TGH facilities on Kennedy).  That needs to be figured into the plan and all the calculations.

TIA – Making Money

The airport had a good year.

TIA reported a record $197.2 million in operating revenue in fiscal year 2014, which ended in September. That’s an increase of 7 percent, or nearly $13 million more than last year, when the airport set the old record of $184.3 million in revenue.

The key, said airport CEO Joe Lopano, is that those passing through TIA are spending more money there.

“We’re providing more and better food, beverage and retail options,” Lopano said. “We’re seeing a much higher spend per passenger than in the past.”

The airport made $11.37 per passenger in 2014. That’s an increase of nearly 5 percent, or 52 cents, from the $10.85 per passenger that TIA made in 2013.

Good deal.  How were passenger numbers?

The airport served 17.3 million passengers in 2014, which was a 2.4 percent increase from the 16.9 million who came through TIA the previous fiscal year. It was the fourth straight year of passenger growth for TIA, and the first time it has hit 17 million since 2009.

But 2014 was still 2 million passengers shy of the airport’s all-time record of 19.3 million in 2007. That record was set in a much different economic climate for the country and the airline industry, however. For TIA to get back to 19 million passengers, Lopano said, depends on a number of factors the airport doesn’t control.

“The more people who have good-paying jobs,” he said, “the more seats you’ll see filled in the market.”

Once again, more evidence that everything is connected – transit, jobs, economy, built environment, airport – and subject to the choices this area makes.  One of those choices, after much debate and a push from a forward-looking minority against a prevailing “go along to get along” attitude, was to seek international routes.  That is paying off, like this

TIA’s biggest growth has been in international flights: Copa Airlines started flying direct to Latin America in December 2013, Edelweiss Air added a second weekly flight to Switzerland and the Cuban market added a flight to Santa Clara, Cuba. The airport had almost 600,000 international passengers in 2014, a jump of 14 percent from 2013.

And it could get better.

In December, Copa started service to Tampa four times a week, giving the bay area its first direct flight to Latin America. Copa’s passengers can use the airline’s hub at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City to catch connecting flights all over Central and South America.

But TIA wants Copa to start flying daily. Heilbron, who was at TIA on Thursday as the 2014 winner of the Tony Jannus Award, said strong passenger numbers this holiday season would go a long way toward convincing the airline that Tampa is ready for daily flights.

“That is the first step to see how it goes with dailies,” Heilbron said. “We hope that in the not-too-distant future we will be able to make it daily year-round.”

Copa will go to daily flights from Nov. 17 to Jan. 2. If the airline has a good holiday season in Tampa, then it could also shift to daily flights during the summer, too.

And don’t forget the Edelweiss service increases.

And in other news, the airport is about to get the master plan construction under way. See here and here.

You can see pictures, like the one below of the main terminal people mover station, here.

From the Tampa Bay Business Journal – click on picture for gallery

Port – Talking Trade

There was a recent confab about exports at the port.

Florida’s road to success depends on its ability to compete outside of its borders, he said. Davidson helped lead an export pep rally of sorts on Thursday at Port Tampa Bay, with some 200 attendees. The recurring theme: the Tampa Bay business community must work in unison as a region if it is to become an export powerhouse.

A statement of the obvious, yes, but there is no harm in a little reminder since it seems so hard for people to do.  And, at this point, we would settle for pretty successful export area.  Powerhouse is a bit of a way off.

Davidson helped the Florida Chamber Foundation pen a paper called Florida: Made for Trade, a document that looks at projected growth, demographics and economic trends, as well as the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is nearly complete.

“We need to move more trade through our ports and airports,” he said, noting that much of what is now shipped out of Florida is actually trucked here from manufacturing states like Georgia and Alabama. Moving manufacturing here means more jobs here and more exports from here, he said.

“For every 10 jobs we create through manufacturing, we get 20 additional jobs” from bankers, to retailers, to truck drivers and more, he said.

“We have the potential for 500,000 more jobs if we get global trade and logistics right,” added Tony Carvajal, with the Florida Chamber Foundation.

And that is good, but there has been no real plan in this area for dealing with the expanding Panama Canal, at least as far as really taking advantage of it.

Then there was this:

Back when Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman served in the Florida Legislature (1996-2004), no one talked about incentive packages for business, she said. “There is a new energy in the community. The recession was a total wake-up call. The climate has changed in the state to support economic development.

“It is our time, but it will only be as good as us getting the job done,” said Murman, who serves as a member of the Hillsborough County Port Authority. “We’ve got to have incentive packages lined up” and ready to lure new businesses here, she said.

In other words, it is our time (whatever that means), unless it isn’t.

Setting aside the rhetoric, we need to lure business, but how about incentives to build a strong business base, not retail, strip stores and golf driving ranges?  And maybe investing the community to create a 21st century infrastructure, rather than a late-mid 20th century one.  And about all the sprawl . . . In other words, if you want to attract strong business, you have to do more than just throw money at companies.  Talent wants amenities and lifestyle (including proper transportation) – which will lead to business.

But we digress.

At least the port is doing this:

The port is adding 25 acres and expanding to seven total docking cruise lines in time for cruise season starting Sunday, CEO Paul Anderson said. It’s in negotiations with manufacturers, including a handful from Latin America, to open in Tampa Bay.

That’s good, though we have no indication of the quality or scale of the manufacturers. Hopefully, that can move some containers.  We look forward to hearing more about it.

So what is the rest of Florida doing?

Port Everglades moved a record amount of cargo in shipping containers in the year ending Sept. 30, according to preliminary data released Monday.

For the first time, the seaport moved more than 1 million TEUs in a single year. TEUs, or Twenty-foot container Equivalent Units, are the standard measure for containerized cargo. Freight moved in shipping containers is widely considered the most profitable business segment for seaports.

That is a milestone and does not include Miami’s container traffic, which is close.  At least the Port talks about one day getting there.  Though, we are really far behind, and it is not clear how being a spoke on a hub and spoke system will accomplish that.

Harbour Island – A Ground breaking

The former Hiku, now apparently HI Apartments, has broken ground in Harbour Island.

Forge Capital Partners and Intown/Framework Group, developers of HI Apartments on Harbour Island, held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning. The 21-story tower, which will be built on an empty lot at Knights Run Avenue and South Beneficial Drive, will include a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as townhouses.

This is the latest rendering.

From Tampa Bay Business Journal – click on picture for article

Fine. Now that Skyhouse is topped out, it is nice to know that at least one crane will be visible in the new year.

Transportation – Road Diet

The City is going to alter Platt Street to make it friendlier to alternative transportation.

After meeting with residents, city officials said last week they plan to add on-street parking and a bike lane to Platt all the way from S Armenia Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard.

In August, officials first said the south side of Platt could get 54 new metered parking spaces from Armenia to S Dakota Avenue, just west of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway overpass.

* * *

Platt’s new bike lane will be paired with another planned bike lane along Cleveland Street’s westbound traffic.

We are not opposed to the idea, but it will be interesting to see what happens with traffic, given the dearth of transit.  It will also be interesting to see if the few projects with some urban form going up on Platt are joined by more or it stays much the way it is, which is not particularly pedestrian (actually, in many areas, not very inviting at all).  Hopefully, that can change.

List of the Week

Our apologies, but we found no good list this week.

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