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Roundup 5-19-2017

May 19, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Bring on the MPOs

Transportation – FDOT, a Case study

Airports – Goings On

— There Is One Thing

— Across the Bay

Transportation – Channelling Billy Gibbons

West Tampa – Coming Down

Economy – Tourism

Economic Development – Money for Building

Sometimes You Just Have to Wonder

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

____________________________________

Transportation – Bring on the MPOs

Now that the TBARTA bill has gotten through the legislature, it seems it is time to move on to part two of the Partnership plan, merging MPOs.

Politicians, citizens, civil servants. Residents of multiple counties. Light rail advocates and opponents. The nearly 200 participants were a microcosm of a diverse population that could, one day, be represented by a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization that represents all of Tampa Bay — and not just each individual county.

But Friday’s workshop at St. Petersburg College’s Collaborative Labs showed just how complicated it can be to reach consensus, especially on one of the region’s most hot-button topics.

So what were the sides (at least the reported sides.  We assume there was more diversity of opinion among 200 people)?

Business leaders believe that a regional MPO is the next step in the bay area’s transportation future. Tampa Bay Partnership president Rick Homans and other economic development leaders successfully lobbied the Legislature to turn the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority into the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority.

If the governor signs the bill into law, the new TBARTA will focus on transit. But the bay area needs more than an operating agency, Homans said, there’s still a void in regional planning.

For some, a regional MPO is the next logical step. Most major metropolitan areas across the country have one MPO, but it’s less common in Florida.

For others, it’s a loss of sovereignty. A regional MPO would remove local control and could make vying for transportation dollars even harder than it already is.

The group listed the key ingredients for a successful regional planning group: accountability, equity, public engagement, a focus on economic development and improved mobility.

That’s all fine, but not very specific.  Of course, there was not agreement:

Hillsborough Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert, for one, opposes a regional MPO. She said there’s too much risk of losing local control. The bigger the entity, she said, the more removed it is from the individuals it serves.

“It makes it a bigger food fight into a smaller amount of money,” Calvert said. “Who is responsible to me in this regional group?”

But others see it as a way to focus regional priorities without casting aside local needs.

“The overall sense I got was that we need a strong regional entity still with strong local input that goes into that,” said Chiaramonte, executive director of TBARTA.

We get the concern for local control to protect neighborhoods from being run over by crappy, imposed plans, though the present system does not really protect neighborhoods.  TBX certainly did not take into account local needs, but, then again, the Tea Party representative supports TBX.   Still, we are actually concerned that neighborhoods don’t get destroyed.

So what is the next step?  You guessed it – a study:

Friday’s input will be used by the group studying the idea. That group is also supposed to search the nation for best practices for a regional MPO structure. There will be more other opportunities to gather local input, Montalvo said, and more workshops. The study should be completed by December, complete with a recommendation.

The group could come back, Pinellas MPO executive director Whit Blanton said, and declare that a unified, regional MPO will not work in Tampa Bay.

“The local, regional tension will never go away,” he said. “There’s this respect you always have to have for local community and local needs, but at a certain point you can’t let it paralyze what you need to do to move a region forward.

If that is the case, it seems that maybe such a study should probably be done before deciding on a specific policy.  Moreover, there already are mechanisms for MPOs to work in a unified way through TBARTA.  There is nothing stopping them from working together and approving an agreed upon plan now.  The organization is not the issue – actually working in a unified way is the issue. Any paralysis is voluntary.

In any event, the Times editorial board already is advocating for merging MPO’s:

Area business and political leaders met Friday to discuss whether to merge the county-based transportation planning agencies across the region into a single Metropolitan Planning Organization. Comprised of local elected officials and the heads of transportation agencies, MPOs oversee transportation planning at the local level and serve as conduits between cities and counties and the state and federal governments. Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties each have their own MPO, and that is two too many.

The county-by-county approach no longer works in this growing region. The Pinellas beaches are a regional draw. Tampa’s airport and seaport serve all of Central Florida. The University of South Florida is a major engine on both sides of Tampa Bay. Tens of thousands of residents commute across county lines to work. Pinellas and Hillsborough have joined hands in promoting tourism and funding a cross-bay ferry. The 3 million residents in the region all depend on access to the bay bridges and the interstate system, and there should be a single champion to ensure that Tampa Bay sets the right priorities and speaks with one voice to get its fair share of state and federal dollars.

Once again, that is all fine, and, done right, we don’t have an objection.  But it is not needed.

Critics fear consolidation would lead to a crowding out of local projects, as big-ticket regional initiatives consume the lion’s share of time, money and political attention. But there is no reason to believe a unified MPO would lose its sense of mission merely because it expanded its scope. Most major metros in the country have a single MPO, and those agencies have balanced local needs with larger visions for their communities. Tampa Bay’s growth in recent years also has sparked an intense public conversation on how to use different transit options where they work best. If anything, a unified MPO would build accountability into the planning system by ensuring that local and regional projects were compatible. 

One again, we are more concerned that a unified MPO would ignore the interests (not necessarily projects) of communities even more than the present MPO’s do.  Nothing in the TBARTA bill or the MPO proposal – or anything in the arguments of the proponents of those ideas – alleviates that concern.

Friday’s meeting was the first of many in the coming months. There are myriad concerns that need to be addressed, from the geography of a unified MPO and its representation to the role that local governments will continue to play in planning decisions. This discussion should not take forever, and it should not focus on who might lose their job or power. This is an opportunity to put the region’s transit needs in a stronger position for funding, and for the area to think longer-term where it is headed. Local leaders should embrace this goal and work constructively to make it happen.

The representation thing will be interesting, especially seeing who will cave.  And it seems that should be discussed up front.  If that cannot get worked out, nothing will get worked out.  And, no, the discussion should not take forever, but our transportation discussion has been going on for at least 30 years.

As we said, done right, we don’t really care about merging the MPO’s, as long as neighborhoods concerns don’t get run over and the members actually pay attention to the plans they are approving (see TBX Howard Frankland).  Whether it can be done right is another question.  And, despite the talk about the reorganization, the real issue remains not the arrangement of the chairs, but what the people sitting in them actually do.  And that remains to be seen.

Transportation – FDOT, a Case study

There has been much talk about the TBX reset and FDOT listening to the community.  And it is good talk.  In light of that, news from Miami caught our interest.

After 90 minutes of sometimes ardent public testimony, a state transportation panel — without a single word of discussion — stuck with a controversial ranking on Friday to select a contractor for the $800 million reconstruction of Interstate 395 and the design of its long-awaited “signature bridge.”

Each of the three panel members endorsed a proposal by a joint venture team led by Archer Western and The de Moya Group by saying “I concur” to signal agreement that scores given the three finalists by two previous review panels had been added up accurately. The Archer Western team beat out its closest competitor, the Fluor-Astaldi-MCM team, by a razor-thin margin of half a point.

Archer Western’s winning plan for a new bridge over Biscayne Boulevard: Six support arches of varying heights that sprout from the center of the elevated span toward its outer edges, a design explicitly meant to evoke a fountain.

But that was not the bridge preferred by a panel of community representatives charged with evaluating competing proposals on aesthetics, a key element in the competition. By a significant margin, the four-member panel preferred the runner-up’s bridge — a design consisting of two scissor-like support towers meant to resemble dancers cavorting before the adjacent Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Setting aside the whole idea of the $800 million rebuild of a part of the interstate in downtown Miami is a few hundred million more expensive than replacing a span of the Howard Frankland, that hardly seems like listening to the community.

This is what won:

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for article

And this is what the community reps wanted:

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for article

While we like the runner-up far more than the winner, that is not the point.  This is:

The Florida Department of Transportation won’t even answer questions on its process. Dick Kane, the agency’s communications director, emailed the Editorial Board that a “cone of silence” issued on the project remains in effect. That’s ridiculous. FDOT should explain itself. It’s a contagious lack of transparency that FDOT seems to have caught from the state Legislature, which did too much of the public’s business behind closed doors.

This time, the rush to get something past residents is not just sneaky: In court, it represents the breach of a legal settlement reached in 2013 between the FDOT and the city of Miami. Miami attorney Mason Pertnoy, who helped craft the original agreement with FDOT, plans to push the point: “It’s not my concern which bridge is more pleasing, they have breached their agreement.”

FDOT had promised a special bridge, then reneged, saying only a segmental bridge would be built, with no regard to aesthetics. The city, with then-Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff in the lead, sued FDOT. The case was settled with an agreement to set up two five-member panels: an aesthetics panel with the power to vote on the final look of the bridge, and a technical panel, made up of FDOT personnel who would deal with logistics, but not vote on the final design.

But questionable shenanigans, unfortunately, reared up. In the end, the technical panel did vote, improving the odds for the winning side. “FDOT math,” said Sarnoff, who should be praised for stepping up to enforce the agreement even though he’s no longer a public servant.

This is an expensive, and long-lasting, bait and switch by FDOT, and it needs to be revisited.

Last week, FDOT, trying to save face, held a 90-minute public meeting. Those who came to speak about the flaws and benefits of the competing projects thought they would be heard. After they spoke, the state transportation panel listening — but without discussion — stuck with the controversial ranking to select a contractor and design.

Which really makes one wonder what the TBX reset really will accomplish.  As we have said before, the nice talk is good (and bro hugs are fine), but far more important is the plan that emerges. The story from Miami is not encouraging.

Airports – Goings On

There was more good news about airport traffic:

TIA beat its previous record by more than 50,000 passengers in the two months combined. In March, the airport’s busiest month, TIA served 1,979,244 passengers. In April, the airport served 1,799,519 passengers, bringing the two-month total to nearly 3.8 million passengers.

There was also an interesting dialog regarding the requested audit of the airport renovation/expansion.  When the audit was requested, it was not clear exactly why it was necessary, though there was some talk of spending impropriety. Then the Times carried a letter to the editor by the Florida head of Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party affiliated group:

The first phase of the expansion, originally due to be completed this year, has been pushed back to 2018. And the project is experiencing cost overruns at a time when its sources of funding are in jeopardy. The airport has financed the project with a $195 million grant from the state and approximately $800 million in new bond debt, to be funded by increased parking rates, new fees on car rentals and existing sources of revenue like fees on airline tickets.

The revenue from all these sources is likely to disappoint. Passenger numbers at Tampa International grew only 0.6 percent last year — far short of the 2.7 percent annual growth the airport projected. Ticket sales, therefore, will probably fall short of expectations. Meanwhile, ridesharing services will cut into parking revenue and rental car fees.

Taxpayers are right to worry they will be on the hook for the shortfall. They might also ask why they are funding a nearly $1 billion rental car facility in the first place. Tourists may enjoy the convenience, and rental car companies will profit handsomely. But the average family is unlikely to see much benefit.

Florida’s lawmakers should support auditing Tampa International Airport. Taxes ought to support core government services — not be wasted on special interests.

Setting aside that it is unclear how rental car companies will profit handsomely if people use ridesharing so much, the letter is interesting in that it frames the audit in ideological terms, not in terms of corruption or improper disbursement of funds. (It also does not mention other airport expansions, like Orlando’s $3 billion project).   More interestingly, we could not find any widespread local Tea Party objection to the airport work (sure, someone may object, but, looking at blogs, news reports, and websites, it does not appear to be widespread).

About a week later, the Airport Director had a guest column in the Times:

As the gateway to the west coast of Florida, it’s essential that the airport grow at a pace consistent with Tampa Bay, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.

We’re already bursting at the seams. Though the numbers of takeoffs and landings are flat, airlines are flying bigger, fuller planes. (It’s not your imagination: There really is less leg room.) That means more people use the airport than ever before. We served nearly 2 million passengers in March, marking the busiest month in the airport’s history. Peaks and valleys occur, but the numbers show us meeting passenger forecasts developed during the planning of the expansion in 2012.

Since then, we’ve seen a 12.5 percent increase in passengers and anticipate serving a record number this year. With new service to Panama, Germany, Cuba and, soon, Iceland, international passenger traffic has increased more than 100 percent. Those flights and new service to Seattle and San Francisco support our tourism economy as well as the growth of other business sectors that rely on easy access to domestic and international flights.

There is not much to add there.

Our financial picture is also strong. Even in the midst of a $971.9 million expansion, Wall Street has given us an enthusiastic nod of approval: Tampa International is the only airport in North America with Double A ratings from four different bond rating agencies. In giving those ratings, agencies cited diverse revenue streams and conservative management of our capital program.

Phase one funding comes from a variety of sources. User fees attached to car rentals cover almost all the cost of the rental car center, an approach common nationwide for such facilities. Visitors largely pay those fees, but Tampa Bay residents and visitors alike will benefit from the resulting decongestion of roads and passenger dropoff and pickup areas. Bonds backed by airport revenues and user fees attached to airline tickets cover about 33 percent of the project. The state of Florida also invested nearly $200 million in the program, a generous contribution to a vital state asset that supports more than 81,000 jobs and generates $7.8 billion in economic output each year, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Not to mention adding 2400 spaces to the long-term parking garage by moving rental cars out – adding parking revenue and convenience.

Setting aside infrastructure spending on express lanes doesn’t do anything for the “average” family (especially in an area where incomes are as low as ours) and/or in a world where traffic is supposedly flowing smoothly because everyone is using shared automated cars (probably won’t happen, but just for the sake of argument) express lanes are a total waste of money because no one will need them, we are all for careful management of taxpayer money. (Though if you can turn a $200 million investment into a $1 billion improvement, that is a pretty good deal.  And if the money comes from user fees, all the better.)  However, we are also aware that infrastructure is a key government function and requires investment.  Moreover, air service is critical to business and competition for developing air services is fierce (and will help pay the debt for the renovation/expansion).  Maintaining the airport’s excellent reputation and functionality is key. (Which includes attracting more of those tourists who benefit from an efficient rental car facility). And developing business to help the local economy helps local families.

And, in any event, the funding is a political question that has already been answered.

So, by all means, audit to make sure the money is spent where it is supposed to be spent.  But if the audit is just a way to make an ideological objection to infrastructure investment, the audit is a waste of taxpayer money. The maintaining and improving public assets that help drive the local economy is not a special interest – it is public interest.

We need an airport.  We have a great facility that consistently ranks as one of the best in the country (if not the world).  Neglecting it out of ideology makes no sense and wastes the previous investment.

— There Is One Thing

There is one thing we hope the airport is paying close attention to:

Recent malfunctions with Orlando International Airport’s new shuttle provoked astonishment that a broken train could trigger such a debacle for which there was no immediate rescue plan.

* * *

But the shuttle stoppages that happened over five days in April weren’t caused by an easily corrected hiccup at an airport that is now immersed in big-ticket projects.

* * *

The train that failed last month, however, wasn’t one of the airport’s proven workhorses. Nor was it backed up by a parallel train; the companion shuttle was under reconstruction. The train expected to run tirelessly went into service in February, built and installed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Also new: an elevated track; high-voltage circuitry; computer servers; and a control room of consoles, monitors and even a line printer, zinging out hard copies of the train’s heart beat.

Tested for a month before service, a period that included hauling 60,000 pounds of water bottles, a load equal to the limit of 300 passengers, the train still was in its infancy.

The SkyConnect system in Tampa will also use Mitsubishi vehicles (we think they are also the same model, but we could be mistaken).  Regardless, we hope they are watching so we do not get a repeat here.

— Across the Bay

Meanwhile, at St Pete- Clearwater International Airport:

In March 2017, PIE served the most passengers in its history with 206,806 travelers. It also marked the first time the airport surpassed the 200,000-passenger mark in a single month. April followed with a 24 percent increase over April 2016, serving 181,649 passengers.

PIE reported a record-breaking year for passengers in 2016, surpassing its stated goal of 1.8 million.

Which is good.  The only problem is that those numbers are too reliant on one airline.

Transportation – Channelling Billy Gibbons

Normally we don’t pay that much attention to specific Pasco bus routes, but something in an article in the Times caught our eye.  First the background:

Getting from her home in Lake Padgett Estates to the bus stop at Collier Parkway and State Road 54 can be the hardest part. But from there, it’s smooth riding — on what Pasco County calls its cross county route between Trinity and Zephyrhills — to the Shops at Wiregrass or the 16-screen movie theater at the Groves in Wesley Chapel.

Beginning Monday, the connection to that cross county route will be a little easier. So will access to county offices, parks, the library, grocers, retailers, physicians and social agencies for central Pasco residents who do not have reliable transportation.

Pasco County Public Transportation is beginning a new north-south bus service that will circulate though Land O’Lakes on U.S. 41, SR 54 and Collier Parkway. It also will connect to the existing east-west route on SR 54 and link to Hillsborough’s bus service, HART, at the Target store on County Line Road in Lutz.

Which sounds good. Now the thing that caught our eye:

Buses will run hourly, with southbound vehicles leaving the Pasco Utilities building on Central Boulevard beginning at 6 a.m. weekdays, with scheduled stops at Gator Lane, SR 54 and the Walmart store south of the apex of U.S. 41 and Dale Mabry Highway. Other destinations on the route include Publix at Connerton, the government offices at the Pasco County David “Hap” Clark Jr. Building (Central Pasco Professional Center), the Land O’Lakes Community Center and Target.

We suppose an hourly bus is better than no bus (but it may not be).  But an hourly bus is nothing you can really plan for or rely on.  Such poor service is the essence of what happens when you are just providing the minimum for the need rider.  If you have no choice, you will take the awful frequency.  If you have a choice, there is no way you would rely on an hourly bus.  Simple as that.

West Tampa – Coming Down

There was an editorial in the Times regarding the demolition of North Boulevard homes.

The shuttered complex will be demolished in two phases, part of a broader effort by the city to remake 120 acres on the west side of the Hillsborough River. The cinder block, World War II-era public housing project fronts the commercial core of the West River district. Officials expect to convert this area into a walkable neighborhood of shaded streets, apartments, restaurants and shops sloping toward the river and new public parks. Already the city is remaking Riverfront Park, several blocks to the east, which will serve as West River’s central outdoor space.

First, it is West Tampa.  (“West River” is some recent marketing thing.)  See map from 1910:

From tampapix.com – click on map for website

It’s West Tampa. (Just check the West Tampa CRA.)  It should not be hard to say.

Moving on, Riverfront Park is not the central outdoor space of the plan.  This is from the updated plan document:

From 2016 update – click on picture for document

Frpm 2016 update – click on picture for document

(You can see the original idea here.) Setting aside that it will probably change again, the first thing you notice is that Riverfront Park is way at the bottom right of the picture, not really connected to the neighborhood.  In fact, the entire “West River” plan is north of the interstate and Riverfront Park is south of the interstate (not to mention that if TBX gets built, that green strip north of the interstate in the pciture will be under the interstate/paved over).  The old plan had a central (actually central) riverfront plaza in the middle of the project.  They took that out (at least in part because there is no money to consolidate the schools in other parts of the plan area).  Now there is no central, outdoor space.  (So Riverfront Park is sort of a default open space near part of the project though the western Riverwalk, however it is formulated, is really the main public space.)  But anyway,

The elements of West River are coming together in a timely and orderly way as the urban market for housing and retail in Tampa remains strong. Aside from the remake of Riverfront Park and the clearing of North Boulevard Homes, the city has vacated its 12-acre truck yard to the north, presenting an opportunity for mid-rise apartments on a bluff overlooking the river. Virtually the entire area in the West River footprint is publicly owned. That creates great leeway to redevelop the area with a common vision and quality that can be missing when working piecemeal with many different property owners.

And that is true, as is this:

West River is one of the most ambitious remakes in Tampa’s history, and challenges remain. President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating a range of transit and development grants that Tampa and other cities have used to rebuild their downtown cores. The market still will rely in part on urban pioneers willing to take a chance. And creating the full development will take years; property owners will need to have confidence and a commitment to the long term. Whoever succeeds Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn when his term expires in 2019 will need to follow through in concert with other local agencies to meet the demands for schools, policing and other essentials. But West River has great promise, and it should be a city priority. It has all the elements of a live-work-play environment on a grand scale.

Redevelopment of this area certainly does have great promise (if a silly name).  And, by the time anything gets built (which should be a while), it will not require urban pioneers.  There is all sorts of development going on in Tampa Heights and just south of the interstate on Rome.  Nevertheless, hopefully, it the City will not settle and will really fulfill the promise.  Though, one thing that did go unmentioned: the need for strong transit connections.

Economy – Tourism

Time to check in with tourism.

Despite controversy surrounding reduced funding for Visit Florida, the Tampa Bay region hit new highs with its tourism revenue.

Visit Tampa Bay reported that for the first time, revenues from the tourist development tax — better known as the bed tax — were more than $10 million for the first three months of the year and broke $3 million a month for three consecutive months during the first quarter of 2017.

In March, $3.59 million in bed taxes were collected, up 4.4 percent from the same period in 2016. That brought tourism revenue to $10.1 million for the first three months of the calendar year and $18.5 million for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, 2016.

In fact, March was the third straight month of $3 million-plus revenues. Bed tax revenues have set new records for six of the last seven months of the fiscal year.

Visit St. Pete Clearwater also had strong bed tax revenue numbers. For the first three months of 2017, bed taxes collected in Pinellas County totaled $17.5 million, with March being the largest single month in its tourism history at whopping $7.8 million. The county’s beaches have been garnering national accolades and new hotels have been springing up, particularly in Clearwater in the past year.

Setting aside that the Visit Florida thing is about next fiscal year and have nothing to do with the numbers referred to, the numbers are all very good (and note that tourist taxes are user taxes). It is part of a larger trend:

Florida drew 31.1 million visitors during the first three months of the year, the highest number during any quarter in state history, Gov. Rick Scott said Monday in Miami.

That’s a 2.5 percent jump over the same time period in 2016.

Florida’s tourism numbers were bolstered by a 3.2 percent increase in domestic travelers from the first quarter of 2016. People from other U.S. states accounted for 27 million of Florida’s visitors during the first three months of this year.

That is all good. Maybe Hillsborough will finally qualify for the extra percentage point on the tourist tax.

Economic Development – Money for Building

Which brings us to an interesting article in the Times about real estate lending:

That could be a smart move. Both nationally and in the Tampa Bay area, businesses are finding it harder to get money from banks these days.

No one is saying that bay area’s building boom is about to screech to a halt. But borrowers for many types of projects — especially new hotels, apartments and retail outlets — can expect to pay higher interest rates, put more of their own money into the project, or both.

What explains it:

In a recent report, the big Ohio-based financial advisor Bahl & Gaynor states: “Loan growth has plateaued… for now.” The total dollar amount of loans nationwide plummeted after the 2008 financial crash but began a steady climb between 2011 to mid-2015, when it far surpassed even pre-crash levels. Since then, the volume has leveled off or even dipped a bit.

Uncertainty over health care, tax reform and spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure is contributing to “anemic loan growth,” the report said. 

And what sectors are feeling a pinch?

In Tampa Bay, apartment developers are among those likely to feel the loan squeeze. Thousands of new upscale apartment units have been built since the recession, especially in Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg. And while the bay area has enjoyed strong job growth, incomes have not kept pace so the demand for rentals as high as $3,900 a month could start to wane.

“For new construction, we are absolutely seeing a pull back from the lender community,” said Darron Kattan, who specializes in multi-family housing for the Tampa brokerage Franklin Street. Banks prefer developers with proven records and even those might have to increase their equity in the project by 5 or 10 percent, he said.

On the flip side, it’s easier to buy an existing apartment community.

* * *

New hotel construction could also be challenging to finance, even though the Tampa Bay area currently is one of the hottest hotel markets in the country.

“Tampa is performing significantly better than other markets, still the pace of growth in the bay area has slowed,” Plasencia said. “If you are a new investor in the lodging sector and don’t have strong lending relations, in all likelihood lenders are going to require you to put more equity in the deal.”

And with more and more people shopping online, loans for brick-and mortar stores will be tricky to get. 

Which all makes sense.  There has been a lot of construction in those sectors, so there is risk of market saturation.  Not that there won’t be any new projects, but the deals will be a little harder to get done, which, in the long run, maybe be a good thing.  It may help avoid a bubble (though rates are still pretty low).

On the other hand:

Even as lending tightens, however, some Tampa Bay businesses should still have little trouble borrowing.

Self-storage facilities are easy to finance because they are cheap to build, generate good cash flow and don’t require much work to operate. Medical offices will be in demand as the population ages. More warehouse space will be needed as Tampa Bay continues to grow. 

Can’t have too much self-storage.

Sometimes You Just Have to Wonder

Now that Hurricane Season is upon us, there are articles about various subjects, including an interesting one in the Times about evacuations.

And if a monster hurricane takes aim at the bay area, the highest evacuation level in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Manatee counties would result in a total of 1.5 million — half the region — ordered to leave their homes over two full days.

The Tampa Bay area has a booming population but a busted road network. Emergency management officials wonder how a region that can’t handle rush-hour traffic will deal with the realities of a major hurricane evacuation. The bay area hasn’t had a direct hurricane strike in nearly a century and hasn’t had a major evacuation in more than a decade.

So what is the solution?  You can read the articles for the recommendations.  This is the part that really caught our eye:

The Florida Department of Transportation is hoping its new evacuation plan will help.

The state’s old plan called for converting major highways — like Interstate 4 and Alligator Alley (I-75) — into one-way exit routes. If people were evacuating to the north, the southbound lanes would change direction, so the entire interstate would move in one direction. (In the case of a southbound moving storm — a much less likely scenario — the reverse would happen.)

Converting both directions of an interstate to a massive one-way artery boosts capacity, but it also calls for more resources, said Angela Allen, emergency coordinating officer for DOT’s Tampa Bay office. It required about 100 officers to close ramps and direct traffic.

There was also a safety concern: reversing traffic meant signs faced the wrong direction. Drivers could become disoriented.

The 2017 hurricane season starts June 1, and so does the state’s new evacuation plan for the Tampa Bay region: Instead of making I-4 a one-way road, DOT will convert the inner shoulder to an additional lane. That won’t provide as much capacity, but officials said it’s safer than the reverse-lanes plan. The I-4 corridor is the escape route for Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas residents if they need to seek shelter in Central Florida.

Another perk? It requires far less law enforcement resources.

The state will do the same for three other major evacuation routes: I-75 from Wildwood to the Georgia line, I-75 through Alligator Alley and I-10 from Jacksonville to I-75.

So it has the benefit of using fewer resources, but will not provide capacity to move people as fast, which would seem to be the point of an evacuation plan.  But more to the point, all sorts of states use counterflow/contra-flow. (South Carolina; Georgia; Mississippi; Louisiana; Texas even has these nice brochures.)  We don’t remember too many news reports about large numbers of drivers in other states getting disoriented and wandering off into swamps or having huge pile-ups.  Maybe they do and we just don’t hear about it. We are open to that possibility, but, if that is the case, we would like to know.

It just seems odd that all these other states can do it, but we can’t.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

There was news regarding the Brightline rail project.

Martin and Indian River counties’ battle with the high-speed, Miami-to-Orlando train has come to screeching halt.

The challenge was thrown out on May 10 by U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper.

And that means Brightline finally can move forward with construction on Phase 2, which will bring the South Florida passenger train into Orlando International Airport. The project’s Orlando leg is anticipated to bring $400 million worth of construction opportunities and create 6,600 jobs, as previously reported by Orlando Business Journal.

You can read the details in the article here.

Recently there has been talk that the next phase (after Orlando) for Brightline may be the Tampa Bay area.  We shall see.

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