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Roundup 4-15-2016

April 15, 2016


Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough

— The Editorial

— The Polls

— Conclusion-ish

Transportation – TBX/Gateway Express Clarification?

— One More Thing

Transportation/Planning – Welcome to Pasco

— An Unhidden Cost of Sprawl

— How Do Solve a Problem Like SR54/56

— Meanwhile, to the West

— Conclusion

Transportation/TIA/List of the Week – When Things Are Done Right

— And a Little Service Sort of News

Transportation/PTC – When Things Are Done Incorrectly

Latin America – Cuba Developments

— A Slow Boat to Havana

— The Consulate Search

This is Not Good


Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough

We were really hoping to avoid saying anything about Go Hillsborough this week.  But it was hard, especially with the news that came out.

— The Editorial

First the Times ran an editorial, which is echoed many of our criticism of Go Hillsborough (we apologize for the big quote):

Of course, revenue is only half of the equation. The spending plan also falls flat, as it continues to pour more money into the same old road system instead of investing strategically in more efficient transit options. Of the $1.2 billion committed for the first 10 years, 58 percent would go to roads and 42 percent to mass transit. That split should be reversed. This plan won’t give commuters convenient and reliable options for leaving the car at home, and it guarantees that the road network will absorb the lion’s share of transportation spending for decades.

The plan for mass transit is less than meets the eye. Of the $505 million in spending in the first decade, one-fifth would go for an express bus line in the southeast suburbs, one of the worst areas for bus use in the county. Another $21 million would go for ferries to take south county residents assigned to MacDill Air Force Base onto their restricted work site. Running empty buses in the suburbs is not a wise use of these precious dollars or a good visual advertisement for mass transit. As a recipient of federal transit aid, the county could also be courting an equity issue by funding a bus to nowhere in the suburbs at the expense of service to inner-city residents. And taking employees on a closed route to and from a restricted military installation is a nice addition but of limited public benefit.

Take away the suburban express and the ferry, and the spending plan becomes more upside-down, with one-third for transit and two-thirds for other pet projects. For the much-touted Tampa rail project from downtown to the airport, there is no route, no train technology, no finance schedule and no idea how the city would cover 93 percent of the project’s $480 million cost. A study to answer those questions wouldn’t even begin for at least two years. Same for the express bus in the suburbs — no route and no spending plan. The Legislature put $100,000 in the budget this year to study an alignment, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it.

With its lack of specifics, the Go Hillsborough plan is not a coherent long-term plan but a list of projects the county and its three cities could fund with a new revenue source. There is no overarching vision for bringing together the road and mass transit projects, no discussion of how and when the many moving parts fall into place, no explanation of how projects fit into larger plans by the area ports or airports, and no sign of how Go Hillsborough would make the county more competitive.

Even after two years of study, officials have failed to get ahead of the problem by addressing land development policies that drive new growth to the far-flung exurbs. If anything, this measure promotes sprawl by forestalling any effort to address growth and transportation in a single policy. County commissioners and staff went to some lengths during a meeting last week to underscore that there is no plan for introducing rail across the county, much less across the Howard Frankland Bridge. And the spending plan doesn’t extend beyond the first 10 years, leaving two-thirds of a 30-year tax proposal still in the conceptual stage.

* * *

But it’s long been clear that county commissioners have no stomach for making the hard decisions that would make Go Hillsborough stronger. The result is an underfunded, poorly designed plan that seeks to appease antitax conservatives in the suburbs at the expense of urban residents and puts off questions about rail, growth and regional connectivity until further down the road.

The Times concludes that the plan either needs to be fixed or tossed so as to not lock in this plan.  There is something to be said for that position.

And yet . . . we keep coming back to this: this basically that this is the best plan one can expect with these elected officials and this electorate.  Frankly, the best argument for Go Hillsborough was made by a reader who also sees the warts on the plan in a Facebook discussion (he is the one who first brought up the fixes we have posted previously).  Because it was not really written for this purpose, his comment is short and may seem a bit disjointed (and we apologize for putting his words out there like this.  If he wants to write some and send it to us that lays out his position more clearly, we will be happy to post it).  Still, it makes the point:

Buses are the critical need for transit. Period. [T]he long term for the county is [undetermined]. That is a valid question for everyone to ask . . .  It’s an opportunity to try and convince the county to say what they are going to do with $1.6 Billion or more from 2027 to 2047.

. . .in fact [the Go Hillsborough plan]’s significantly better in the first 10 year than anything anyone has proposed in a decade. More detailed, more realistic, and more tied to what people want.

That is true (though maybe not enough of what the people want).  Despite its problems, this plan is better than anything in the last ten years.  And that is a reason to support it.

Either way, people should get a chance to vote.

— The Polls

There were a couple of polls released this week regarding public support for the plan. They did not provide any clarity.

A poll released Thursday by the Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce says as many as 54 percent of respondents would support a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements.

That rate of support slips to 47 percent, however, when the question is put in different contexts, according to chamber president and CEO Bob Rohrlack.

There are two ways to look at the result:

Rohrlack downplayed the level of support shown for the transportation tax, saying more work needs to be done educating the public about how the new tax proceeds will be spent before a majority might support the levy.

“There is some support but there is still some education that needs to go on,” he said

Proponents of the tax were more upbeat.

“The long and short of it is, it’s a very positive thing that the majority of residents are willing to raise their taxes to fix transportation problems,” said Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit group Connect Tampa Bay. “Everything else is just conjecture. If people want to say (the numbers) aren’t positive, they’re wrong.”

Maybe.  One thing is clear:

Many voters who don’t support the tax still agree something should done about the county’s gridlocked highways, pot-holed neighborhood streets and limited mass transit options.

A huge majority of those polled — 88 percent — thought improving the county’s transportation system is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” priority.

And even more interestingly from the Chamber of Commerce poll:

When asked if the plan goes too far or not far enough in solving the area’s traffic crisis, 54 percent said it did not go far enough, whereas 24 percent said it did goes too far.

Which is an interesting circle to square with the County Commission’s timid approach.  Maybe boldness would bring greater support, even if those who are already opposed would yell a little louder.  On the other hand, given that, for political reasons, the Commission’s approach has been defined more by the opponents of any transit than the proponents, boldness is unlikely.

A second poll had quite a different result:

A new poll indicates a majority of Hillsborough County voters would support a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase for transportation improvements if a vote were held today.

The poll, conducted by the Tampa-based Mercury firm and financed by unidentified business interests, indicates the strongest support yet for the proposed tax. A total of 66 percent of those surveyed said they would either “definitely” or “probably” vote for the tax.

Given polls from previous referenda, we have our doubts about those results.  Regardless, a few things are clear.  Transportation is a, if not the, major issue for this area.  It definitely is an issue for people who live here now and have to get around. As has been discussed previously, it is a major issue for companies looking to relocate. It is an economic issue.  It is a lifestyle issue.  It is like a health issue.  And for many, especially some of the biggest opponents of transit, it is an ideological issue.  And, finally, it is an issue that has been handled badly by local officials.

— Conclusion-ish

We are really of two minds about the issue.  The plan is in not inspiring.  Regular readers will know that we agree with basically every criticism in the Times editorial.  (And note that even if you are good with the city rail components and even if you think the present Mayor is a can-do, big vision, big project mayor, he will be out of office before anything regarding the downtown-Westshore rail line will really be done.  There is no guarantee about the next administration.  Even something as obvious and supported like the Riverwalk took 40 years.) And, to a large degree we agree with this from URBN Tampa Bay:

Even if we concede, ok this is just a half cent sales tax, it’s a limited pool of money… And ok, a sales tax is the only significant funding mechanism we can hope to get from the existing political establishment… Even if we reduce expectations for Go Hillsborough to near zero, Go Hillsborough still doesn’t check the first box any transportation plan should check, which is to offer a compelling vision that the community can rally behind.

And yet . . . and yet, we know that the present County Commission is not going to provide a compelling vision. And, given local politics, it is questionable whether any group of elected leaders in the foreseeable future will either. Go Hillsborough probably is the best we can get right now, especially given the present County Commission and the electorate. And people who have been here a while will know that Hillsborough County (Tampa included) has a hard time taking big leaps forward, which is why we lag behind other areas. There is an argument that, while uninspiring and still too road centric (and including spending money on pork for Commissioners – like the South County Express Bus – rather than really being a comprehensive, coordinated, integrated plan), you are just not going to get much better with the government you have. Given that, there is reason to support it.

To be honest, we are still undecided.

Transportation – TBX/Gateway Express Clarification?

This week, there was news of the Gateway Express portion of TBX in Pinellas.

The Florida Department of Transportation reached out to contractors Thursday, unveiling its latest plans for the Gateway Expressway.

The project “will take Tampa Bay into the future for many years,” Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development at the Florida Department of Transportation, told an audience that packed a hotel ballroom near the campus of the University of South Florida.

The Gateway Expressway is six separate, multifaceted projects intended to make driving into and around Pinellas County easier and safer. It has been in the planning stages for 16 years.

The overall project includes building a new four-lane elevated expressway from the Bayside Bridge and U.S. Highway 19 to Interstate 275. There will also be express lanes along the median of I-275 from south of Gandy Boulevard to the Howard Frankland Bridge. A toll-free option will remain.

Heading south from the Bayside Bridge, there will be a new flyover ramp to access the new tolled road. At St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), the access road will be reconfigured and shifted south toward the new overpass at Terminal Boulevard.

Traveling south along U.S. 19, there will be new flyover ramps and a new viaduct bridge at 49th Street. Interchange ramps will be reconstructed with express lanes to I-275.

The express lanes will continue north along I-275 across the Howard Frankland Bridge to connect with future express planes throughout the Tampa Bay region.

First, we have no problem with the basic idea of Gateway Express – except that there is no real transit to go with it in Pinellas County.  Pinellas is plainly underserved in the highway department.  The basic idea of the connections in Gateway Express make sense (though there should be a full connection to the Gandy Bridge and the plan is not a substitute for real transit).  We don’t even have a problem with it being a toll road.  Toll roads make sense in many circumstances. (Did we mention that Pinellas needs real transit, especially if it wants to grow at all, which will require redeveloping areas more densely?)

On the other hand, we do have an issue with toll roads that have variable rate toll lanes.  If people are already paying to use a road, why should they have to pay more to get proper service? (And what alternatives do they have – which is a prudential question for the express/variable rate/congestion pricing theory? None, because there is no real transit in Pinellas County).

Nevertheless, the overall idea, sans express lanes is ok.

— One More Thing

In the Business Journal article about Gateway Express, there was a schmancy video from FDOT, which is this:

Towards the end of the video, the video shows the variable rate toll lanes, otherwise known as “express lanes.”  Around 6:26 of the video, the video goes towards the Howard Frankland Bridge.  It shows 4 free lanes and an express lane on 275.  Then it gets to the approach to the Howard Frankland where all of a sudden you get three free lanes and one express lane.  As everyone knows, the Howard Frankland now has four free lanes.  In other words, the plan, as presented by FDOT this week, appears to take away a free lane from the Howard Frankland (which was the previously announced plan, though it is unclear if it still is), or, at best, create new bottle necks at the end of the bridge until the bridge is widened in the “future.” Especially given FDOT’s propensity for widening roads before fixing bottlenecks (see Malfunction Junction and Howard Frankland/SR60), that plan needs clarification.

And then there was this:

The project is also leaving open an option for a future light rail corridor on the south side of Ulmerton Road.

Which is all well and good, but who says that is the best path for any possible rail?  We are still waiting for FDOT’s own transit study (and will be waiting for a while).  Will any other path’s be closed off?  If so, why?  Shouldn’t there be a full study first.

It all goes to the uncoordinated planning or transportation in this area and plans that are slavishly accepted by most local officials without much (or any) discussion.  Like we said, the basic idea of building these connections is fine (overdue, even).  But there are still a lot of questions.

Transportation/Planning – Welcome to Pasco

We only rarely venture deeply into subjects regarding Pasco County and usually they involve issues that have a wider significance. This week, however, there were a number of items regarding Pasco that merit a more comprehensive look.  Before we get there though, we have to point out that Pasco has done some good things, like institute mobility fees.  However, even with those, Pasco has seemed to completely ignore proper planning and has failed to learn the lessons of nearby counties.  Frankly, it is a sprawling mess, especially around SR 54/56.  We can think of few places in the area that are more car-centric.  And it is only going to get worse with all the sprawling development planned for that area.

Now, to the issues.

— An Unhidden Cost of Sprawl

First, it is often said that sprawl has hidden costs.  Now, Pasco is making those costs known.

Faced with a growing number of aging neighborhood roads, many of which suffered further deterioration during last summer’s floods, the county commission realized it could not afford to use property taxes to pave the thousands of miles of subdivision roads in Pasco County. Following the practice of many rural counties around the country, the county commission adopted a special assessment ordinance that charges residents the cost of paving neighborhood roads.

Unfortunately, word of the ordinance didn’t reach all of the residents. Waving assessment bills they said they never saw coming, they flocked to commission meetings to protest.

Leventis expressed the concerns voiced by many of the residents.

“We’re not a gated community. All our roads are public. It’s not just us using them, so why do we have to pay to have them paved?” she asked. 

That is the cost of sprawl.  In a sprawling area, land is not used efficiently or productively.  You have more road surface than necessary to move people around and the land facing that road is not as productive (or as taxable).  Logically, you have more road surface to maintain and less revenue to cover maintaining it than more urban/walkable planning.  That is the idea behind mobility fees and promoting infill: the roads, and other utilities, are already there, make them productive. (Though sadly, many sprawling areas are almost impossible to really have infill without just ripping down what is there and starting over.)

County Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey repeated the refrain from other commission meetings in the past two months.

“Your property taxes do not go to road maintenance,” she said. “And Pennies for Pasco (gas tax fund) has a long list of projects approved by voters for safety, operational improvements at intersections, maintenance of traffic signals, signage and road and bridge operations.”

The paving assessment spreads the cost of paving roads throughout the neighborhood, she said. Residents can pay the assessments in a lump sum or over 10 years. For qualifying low-income residents, the cost may be offset with state or federal grant funds.

Most of the assessments approved by the commission to date have ranged from $250 to $350 a year for 10 years.

When you keep pushing the sprawl over more and more areas, costs go up and revenues do not rise at the same level.  You get a deficit and someone has to pay.  Services cost money.

Public Works Director Mike Garrett said many neighborhood roads have not been repaved since the 1970s.

Ok, that is just embarrassing.  What kind of management is that?  And how do you keep planning the same way when you know you can’t even maintain what you have?

In sum, the sprawl model is easier to do and what many developers are set up to do.  It makes money for large land owners who can sell their holdings, so local officials, who are often supported by the big landowners, are in favor of it.  And the elected officials at the time can trumpet growth and their great leadership.  Then, a decade or so later, it is time to pay the bill, many of the elected officials have already moved on, and the homeowners are left to pay.  That is what Hillsborough is dealing with and that is what Pasco is dealing with.  (And, frankly, that cost is not much different from a ½ cent sales tax increase and does not seem to include repaving other roads or providing any transit or other alternatives, like you could really walk or bike from a subdivision to SR 54/56 locations).

The sad thing is that it is entirely predictable.

— How Do Solve a Problem Like SR54/56

Another not so hidden cost of sprawl is embodied by SR54/56, and the mess that they have become.  As we have often said, SR54/56 is built in such a way that, even if there was transit, no one in their right mind would use it because the distances one would have to walk, especially to cross streets and vast parking lots, is so great that it makes no sense (and is actually quite dangerous).  SR54/56, with its intersections with three left turn lanes in addition to the regular lanes, huge setbacks, drainage ditches, and huge parking lots is such a place.  But something needs to be done because the traffic is a mess and will only get worse.  The logical thing to do would have been to build the east/west road planned for Pasco long ago to at least get through traffic off SR54.  That did not happen.

Then there was the relatively recent proposal for an elevated toll road down the middle of SR54. That would have at least allowed traffic to move (at least better than what is there now).  But that was nixed because of financial issues, though there was loud public opposition. (see here and here)

But Pasco has not given up on solving SR54/56.

It’s now up to the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization to choose a remedy for predicted traffic congestion along the corridor of State Roads 54 and 56.

For the past seven months, two task forces made up of concerned residents, landowners and business owners have studied ways to head off what traffic experts believe will become a gridlocked transportation corridor by the year 2040.

Although the widening of State Road 54 and State Road 56 to six lanes has provided some relief for drivers, the reprieve won’t last long, according to the MPO. In the next 25 years, the population of Pasco County will triple with most of the growth — 135,000 new residents — settling in large-scale community developments along the 54/56 corridor.

“They’re building hundreds of new homes along that corridor that will dump a ton of more trips onto 54/56,” MPO senior planner Manny Lajmiri said. “If we’re going to be ready for it, we have to act now.”

Note that pretty much all of that growth will be sprawling, car-centric growth, which makes sense, because, what else can you really do, especially when most of the developments already are sprawling, car-centric developments? (For instance see here and here and just remember there is no way you are walking any of that.)

Last year the MPO formed two task forces, one to represent the corridor from U.S. 19 to U.S. 41 and the other to represent the corridor from U.S. 41 to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The members have met monthly to discuss possible solutions and recommendations.

The task forces held their final meetings March 28 and 31 and will present their recommendations to the MPO on Thursday.

“Each task force came up with their own recommendations, but many of them overlap,” said Sandy Graves, chairwoman of the “east” task force.

We are not sure what an express lane for buses even is, so it is not really traditional.  Setting that aside, there was a bit of surprise.

Included is a recommendation by both task forces to build elevated express lanes to include a dedicated guideway for bus or rail transit.

At a joint meeting in February, the task force members opposed a suggestion by Florida’s Department of Transportation to build elevated lanes over U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes because of the effect on the business district at that intersection.

Since then, task force members have decided to keep the idea of elevated lanes under consideration — provided local traffic can continue using at-grade roads, and pedestrian bridges are included.

Let’s look a little closer at the recommendations (you can see drawings of the ideas if you click on the lists and look at the associated pdfs).  First, from the east task force:

-Alternative B: Grade Separation @ Major Intersections and At Grade Rail or Exclusive BRT and Uses Same Grade Separated Overpasses

-Alternative D: Elevated Express Lanes and Express Bus/Other Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative F (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At-Grade Express Lanes; Express Bus/Other Bus Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative G (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections):At Grade Express Lanes and Express Bus in Express Lanes and BRT or Rail in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative H: Maintaining Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes And At Grade Exclusive Transit In Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative J: Maintain existing 6 General Purpose Lanes (no build) and maintain Local Bus

Now from the west task force:

-Alternative D: Elevated Express Lanes and Express Bus/Other Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative F (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At-Grade Express Lanes; Express Bus/Other Bus Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative C: Elevated Express Lanes and Local Buses Remain At Grade and No Transit in Elevated Lanes

-Alternative G (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At Grade Express Lanes and Express Bus in Express Lanes and BRT or Rail in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative H: Maintaining Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes and At Grade Exclusive Transit in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative J: Maintain Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes (no build) and maintain Local Bus 

So the highest ranked common idea is and elevated highway (we are not sure if they mean variable rate toll lanes or just a limited access road, maybe normal tolls) and rail or BRT.  Setting aside the issue of getting an elevated road through opposition and whether it will be a normal toll road or some variable rate thing, Pasco needs an east-west road.

On the other hand, usually we are all for transit.  However, because SR54/56 in most places is so sprawling, we actually think that without some radical change in planning and building patterns (and in some places even with it), transit on SR54 very well might be a waste of money.

Nevertheless, it shows that Pasco may know that it made mistakes in planning (though “do nothing” was on both lists, too).  Whether it will actually do anything about it is another question.  We tend to think they will just add some lanes or maybe some more buses, declare victory and move on until the next time.  This is Tampa Bay, after all.

— Meanwhile, to the West

So what if nothing changes?  Well, just look to the west, to US19 in Pasco County.

About 650 people have suggested new names for U.S. 19, west Pasco County’s main north-south artery.

The contest entries kick off an effort to improve the safety, aesthetics and image of the roadway stretching between Holiday and Hudson near the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Why the contest?

Local leaders in recent months have hit the road to boost support for an image makeover of the much-maligned section of U.S. 19 through Pasco. For years, the section of U.S. 19 in Hernando County has been called Commercial Way.

The local chamber and board of Realtors formed a partnership to handle landscaping maintenance along about 20 miles of the six-lane highway and also pushed for the name change.

The maintenance group will coordinate with the city of New Port Richey, which plans to spruce up U.S. 19 within the city’s limits.

The Port Richey Bayou Business Association wants to focus on embellishing the U.S. 19 bridge over the Pithlachascotee River, said Kristin Tonkin of Sunset Landing Marina.

“We’ve got to make it a place people want to go instead of to avoid,” Armstrong said about enhancing U.S. 19. The corridor remains the “single biggest economic engine” in the county, he said.

While we are not sure if it is the biggest economic engine in the county, we are sure it needs a makeover.  As bad as SR54/56 is traffic-wise, it is definitely nicer looking than US19, even though US19 is near the water.  US19 now is what SR54/56 will become without a change in approach.  US19 was the first modern focus of growth in Pasco.  However, eventually, the land got used up and the sprawl developers moved on to build newer sprawl elsewhere, like farther east on SR54. That left much of west Pasco behind, especially without good highway access (back to the east/west road) to the major population centers.

— Conclusion

None of this is inevitable, but it is predictable.  It is all the result of choices made over a long period of time, mostly made based on short term interests rather than long term vision.  Pasco should have learned from the counties around it and done better, but, so far, it hasn’t.  Now other counties can learn from it.  For instance, mobility fees are good.  However, they are not enough.  You need to change planning, too.  You need to have proper infrastructure.  You need to change your mentality and not settle for just a little nicer version of the same thing that caused you a problem in the first place.  And you have to take a longer view – not just the length of your term in office.  The lessons are there to be learned.  Whether they will be learned is an open question.

Transportation/TIA/List of the Week – When Things Are Done Right

(c) 2015 All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of a Reader.

This week, once again, the airport gave us a lesson how things can be done right in the Tampa Bay area (if only they would hold a seminar for the County Commission).  First,

Which airports leave fliers the most satisfied?

Tampa International scored the highest rating among big airports in the United States. Omaha’s Eppley Airfield and Washington state’s Bellingham International were the top-rated medium and small airports, respectively.

That’s according to feedback from more than 170,000 passengers who’ve flown through U.S. airports between November 2015 and February 2016. The data was collected by the AirportXP, a mobile platform from Phoenix Marketing International that collects real-time feedback from fliers.

Among large airports, Tampa performed best with  82% of respondents scoring the airport with a “6” or “7” on a 7-point scale via AirportXP. A “7” means a flier was “very satisfied” with their experience while a “1” means “very dissatisfied.”

Tampa edged out Salt Lake City (81%) for the top rating among “large” airports. Charlotte (79%), Chicago Midway (78%) and Atlanta (76%) round out the top five. h

Setting aside that we are not sure who would vote for either Atlanta or Charlotte’s airport, that is great.  Yes, a one time ranking on such a list is no big deal, but the airport is a usual suspect on airport rankings.  It is great, and we all know it.

Aside from the innovative and excellent original plan, one thing that makes it great is that it constantly updates that plan and stays ahead of the game (unlike, say, the Hillsborough County Commission on transportation and planning).  That trend continues:

With passenger growth in 2015 exceeding projections, Tampa International Airport officials are re-evaluating plans for future upgrades.

The $1 billion initial phase of the airport’s master plan appears to be on target for a smooth landing over the next year, so it’s time to determine if the plan to move forward is solid, airport CEO Joe Lopano said.

That re-evaluation will take place over the next four months with the help of two consulting firms: one considering physical renovations and expansion; the other looking at whether the airport is targeting the right geographic regions to attract new nonstop flights to Tampa.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board voted recently to extend the consulting contracts, one by $110,000 on top of the $2.2 million the airport initially shelled out to develop the long-term plan, and one by $200,000 to evaluate future targets for new flights.

“We’re taking a look at all of the assumptions and making sure we still have confidence on where that is leading us and that we’ve done our due diligence in going on to the next phase,” Lopano said.

Exactly.  Before the first phase of a master plan is done, they are looking to see if the next phases make sense (as opposed to FDOT which uses a 25 year old study to justify something which did not even exist in that plan: variable rate toll lanes).  And that all makes sense, because things change:

Already, the airport is seeing growth rates that far exceeded its projections going into phase one of the master plan, which includes a new consolidated rental car facility, a new people-mover train, 65 new restaurants and more space in the main terminal.

Airport executives had predicted 2 percent growth last year and saw 7 percent growth, said Chris Minner, the airport’s vice president of marketing.

Good deal.  So what is going to be examined?

As written now, the second phase of the master plan, expected to get underway sometime between 2018 and 2023, calls for construction of a new hotel and service building replacement and demolition, relocating the air traffic control tower and creating new employee parking at a cost of approximately $400 million. The third phase, scheduled for between 2020 and 2028, calls for expanding the main terminal to handle 34.7 million passengers annually — about double what it handles now. The airport, under the current plan, would have a new airside with international and domestic gates, an international curbside at the main terminal, new security checkpoints and increased concession space, all at an estimated cost of about $1.2 billion.

Consultants will consider whether those plans should stay as is or get tweaked, based on accelerated passenger growth and other economic factors, Lopano said.

Fine with us.  And:

At the same time the master plan is being reviewed, Minner is working with a consulting firm on determining the best markets to target for new nonstop flights.

Already, of the six areas targeted to date — Mexico City, Panama City, the Bahamas, Europe, Sao Paulo and Bogata — three are on board, he said. Tampa International now has flights to Frankfurt, Germany, Zurich, Switzerland, London, England, and two islands in the Bahamas. Minner and his team will review the others and decide whether to keep them or target six completely new destinations.

And that is all based on actual metrics, which is nice (as opposed to just tossing out vague notions of economic development for things like, say Bass Pro Shops or playing fields, and throwing money at them).  But that does not mean that the airport does not invest.  Aside from all the building projects, they also have properly targeted incentives (sorry for the long quote):

“There is an economic impact assessment where we closely examine how much revenue does the airport derive and how much new revenue does that generate for the entire region,” Minner said. When the airport lands a new nonstop flight to Europe, for example, that is worth $154 million a year to the airport, including the job creation that comes with it.

The airport offers incentives to get airlines to come here, Minner said, such as waiving certain fees the airlines would otherwise pay to do business at Tampa International. There are business partners in the community that pitch in to make that possible, including Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete Clearwater, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. All have a stake in the airport’s success, Minner said.

When the Tampa airport first began offering incentives to airlines to fly from Tampa, Lopano said, some in the community scoffed, saying the airlines would stay only as long as the incentives lasted.

That’s not what happened. Edelweiss, which flies to Zurich, and Copa, which flies to Panama City, have both stayed well past the end of incentives, which included the waiving of gate fees by the airport. And they’ve added more flights.

“I think we are on the right track to move on to the next phase” of the master plan, Lopano said. “We’re tweaking. We’re going back into the weeds again and making sure the basis of the forecast is sound and that we all buy into it.

“We’ve always said this is one big hairy beast and we need to be very thoughtful on how we move forward,” Lopano said. “The first phase was a financial no-brainer because it was funded mostly with rental car fees. They wanted a building and were willing to pay. The next phase is sort of on us.”

Note, that incentives were very controversial under the old airport director.  It took much work by a small dedicated group to push for that change.  The same is true for pushing for international service.  Most of the local political class just went along with the old airport director to get along, like they do on TBX.

Investment in infrastructure, especially well done infrastructure brings returns.  And incentives for new business can bring returns if your analysis is proper and you only use it to buy quality that is sustainable.  There is nothing wrong with either of those things if properly done. They are not without any risk, but risks can be minimized with intelligent planning and analysis – as well as a proper vision. (Once again, is the Hillsborough County commission paying attention?). And note that the airport is already working on the financial issues for getting the next phase done before the first is completed. It is nice to have an adult approach.

We just wish that more local officials would function like the airport. (But, please, don’t wrap the new people moved in pictures of birds).

— And a Little Service Sort of News

There was news of a possible new service:

Silver Airways will offer a nonstop flight from Tampa to Nassau starting next month. And Bahamasair also has proposed a new flight from Nassau to Tampa, according to the website

Tampa International officials declined to comment on the Bahamasair report, but reports that flights to and from Nassau and Tampa could begin on Jan. 6 next year and would be offered twice weekly on a ATR42-600 twin-turboprop aircraft, which seats about 40 to 50 passengers. 

Ok, it is not Singapore Airlines, but we are happy with any new service and with more airlines.  We have never understood the dearth of flights to the Bahamas from Tampa.

Transportation/PTC – When Things Are Done Incorrectly

In contrast to the airport, we have the PTC, which shouldn’t even exist.  But it does.  Here is what has been going on.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission refuses to give up its fight against ride-hailing company Uber, and now drivers are in the middle.

PTC Vice Chair David Pogorilich says his group will continue to ticket drivers who agree to work illegally for Uber. They’re setting up stings and issuing $700 tickets. Pogorilich said the PTC wants Uber to put drivers through background checks and finger printing. It also wants the company to agree to other rules.

So, nothing productive.  But then there was this:

There has been a major shake-up at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

It happened after 8 On Your Side started asking tough questions about a trip taken recently by Kyle Cockream who is the executive director of the Hillsborough PTC.

Cockream traveled to the Palm Beach County Commission last week to speak on a ridesharing ordinance being considered there.

Cockream also met with county commissioners the day before the meeting and was there with a man named Lou Minardi, who is the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. Cockream maintains he was on vacation and just happened to go to the meeting because he’s interested in the issue.

However, when he introduced himself in the public meeting before the county commission, he gave his name and title with the Hillsborough PTC and never said he was there as a private citizen.

* * *

However, his remarks were directed against ridesharing companies. He held up two examples of drivers arrested in Hillsborough County for offenses and told commissioners they were driving for ridesharing companies. He told commissioners the insurance carried by Uber and Lyft drivers is an area that can have fraud.

Maybe, maybe not.  But why is he crusading (coincidentally with a local cab company owner) against ridesharing if the PTC has no problem with ridesharing, just getting fingerprints and background checks?  Anyway:

Not long after a WFLA TV interview with Cockream on Monday, the general counsel of the PTC sent an email to board members advising them that Cockream had resigned.

At 8:50 p.m. on Monday, Cockream sent an email to WFLA TV stating:

“This afternoon the General Counsel Attorney for the PTC sent an official notification to all of the PTC Board Members that I submitted a “resignation”. My retirement paperwork (not resignation) was submitted January 21, 2016 to Commissioner Crist. This is in no way related to our conversation earlier today,” said Cockream’s email.

So he is no longer at the PTC. That does not change the questions that the episode raises about what the PTC is really all about.

State Senator Jeff Brandes has a different view. “I think it’s incredibly inappropriate and frankly it really calls into question his impartiality on the whole issue of taxi cab versus Uber and Lyft and I think it puts another black eye on the PTC,” said Brandes.

Yup, and it has long since run out of eyes to have blackened.  OF course, if it was disbanded, it would not have that problem.

Latin America – Cuba Developments

There were two interesting developments this week on Cuba.

— A Slow Boat to Havana

First was an article in the Tribune on ferries to Cuba.

Discussions are under way about carrying cargo and passengers to Havana from ports in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

But the maritime link appears even closer to reality through another local landing — Port Manatee.

Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale met with government officials in Cuba earlier this month and is optimistic it will be granted porting rights there in time to set sail as early as June, said CEO, Jorge Fernandez, a part-time Manatee County resident.

Port Manatee, an estimated eight hours to Havana by ferry, is on his short list of preferred U.S. landings.

Oh, that pesky Port Manatee.

Ferries are expected to be a popular way to travel and take cargo to Cuba.

Passengers can enjoy the maritime journey for an estimated $290 per ticket, said Phil Richards, president of Havana Ferry Partners. They can carry baggage cheaper than on airlines and more of it, a plus for those bringing bulk goods to family or friends in Cuba. The first 40 to 60 pounds of baggage could be free with a small fee per pound after that, Richards said.

Importers may also prefer ferries to freighters. On a ferry, they can accompany their cargo to the Cuban port, there is less bureaucracy, and the cost may be cheaper for those shipping smaller weights.

* * *

The Tampa area could indeed use such a service, said Bill Carlson, president of Tucker/Hall, a public relations agency that supports humanitarian and business missions in Cuba.

The area has no regularly scheduled cargo lines serving Cuba even though it is home to the third largest Cuban American population in the U.S. and to business and political leaders who want to create a gateway for commerce to the island nation. Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and the Port of Jacksonville do have regular cargo service to Cuba. The Port of Miami does not.

Indeed.  For political reasons (the same reasons that not all elected officials are openly championing the Tampa Bay area as a hub of Cuban trade), Tampa has been giving up business with Cuba to other areas, despite our natural connection.

In the article, it says that Tampa and St. Pete are also negotiating for ferries to Cuba.  We doubt there will be service from all three.  According to the article, Port Manatee has the advantage of being closer to the Gulf and thus a bit cheaper to run a ferry.  That is likely true.  It also has the advantage of not having the politics.

Frankly, while we think Tampa is the logical choice, we do not really care if the service is from Port Manatee.  It is a short drive and in the area. The Tampa Bay area will have the service.  It is just that Port Tampa Bay will have lost out – and Tampa proper will not be quite the gateway to Latin America.  It would not be the first time that local fickleness would have cost Hillsborough County/Tampa. (See, for instance, “A Bit of History – Tony Jannus”)

— The Consulate Search

Which brings us to the quest for a consulate.  While the business community, and many others, in Tampa want a Cuban consulate here (and one makes sense), not all political officials are on board (those pesky political considerations).  St. Pete is also pushing for a consulate.  Miami has said it does not want one.  Apparently, that may be technically correct, but the real story is a little more complicated.

During a trip to Cuba in late March, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola met with the island nation’s Foreign Relations Ministry. The two Beach officials said they would welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

Well, that is interesting.  Of course, there is opposition.

Members of the community spoke passionately Monday night at Miami Beach City Hall in reaction to the suggestion that Miami Beach could host a Cuban consulate.

The city’s citizen Hispanic Affairs Committee hosted a public discussion on the topic, which has become a political lightning rod. A majority of speakers, some from Miami Beach and many from around Miami-Dade, decried the idea that a consulate could open in the seaside city. Not all opposed. A smaller group of residents favored a consulate.

We don’t know what will happen (aside from Miami/Dade eventually getting a consulate because it only makes sense).  This area may get a consulate, whether it be Tampa, St. Pete, Kenneth City, who knows.  But, once again, we need a concerted effort with everyone on board.  We are not going to be a Gateway to Latin America if we ignore our longest, closest, tightest connection.

This is Not Good

There was one news report that really caught our eye.  We are not sure how to categorize it or even what exactly it says, other than it is not good.

“Overall, when you look at the country as a whole, the gains in life expectancy have been much larger for the rich than for the poor,” Chetty said. On average, people in the top income quartile “have gained something like three years of life expectancy over the 2000s, whereas people in the bottom five percent of the income distribution have experienced no gain at all on average.”

“But,” Chetty added, “it turns out that this national story has a great deal of local variation to it. There are some places, like Birmingham, Ala., and Cincinnati, Ohio, where the poor gained almost as much in life expectancy as the rich. In contrast there are other places, like Tampa, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn., where the poor actually had declining life expectancy over the 2000s.”

* * *

In Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, the life expectancy of the region’s poorest residents dropped by 2.2 years from 2001 to 2014.

No one is sure why this is the case, but it is problematic, to say the least.

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