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Roundup 10-11-2019

October 10, 2019



— A New Malfunction Junction Plan

— At the Other End of I-275

— Roads to Nowhere

— Another Referendum?

— Virgin Trains

— 275LX

— On an Island?

Downtown – X Factor

Tampa Heights – Like This

South Tampa – Moving Forward


— The Rent’s Too . . . High

— So Is the House Price

— About that Income Thing

Airport – Interesting

Pasco – Subsidizing Sprawl


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Because We Can



— A New Malfunction Junction Plan

For years, FDOT has been discussing Malfunction Junction.  After the latest rebuild (which was did not really fix much), there was TBX, then TB(n)X and options A, B, C, and D. All involved some express (toll) lanes and eating up a decent number of properties. Now, there is something new:

Transportation officials, who have been studying a rebuild of the interchange for years, previously focused on four options that would take anywhere from 40 to 200 parcels. Then the state developed a fifth plan this year that would take seven parcels, and it quickly gained favor within the agency.

The plan would cost about $175 million and be built in stages over the next five or so years as money becomes available, spokeswoman Kris Carson said. It consists of three main parts:

This is the FDOT video:

We have to say, we are surprised, for the most part pleasantly.  Public action can have an effect.

While we do not think this plan is without some issues (like still having some bottlenecks and merges), it is better than previous plans.  It will not damage central Tampa as much.  And, while we do not expect it to solve all the traffic issues in the junction, we do not think any of the plans would.  The reality is that we need other alternatives to roads.

As for the toll lanes:

Previous plans for the interchange involved adding toll lanes that would change in cost based on traffic and demand. These toll lanes, initially proposed as a multi-billion dollar plan known as Tampa Bay Express, are still planned for Pinellas County, the Howard Frankland Bridge, a rebuilt West Shore interchange and I-275 west of downtown Tampa.

* * *

The state has decided to end all express lanes on I-275 near Ashley Drive in Tampa. Drivers who enter the interstate at Himes Avenue will be able to take the toll lanes west, but not east.

Better, but still too much.

— At the Other End of I-275

Meanwhile, even the small work being done at the Westshore end of I-275 is causing issues.  See here and here.  If FDOT was going to cause all this hassle, the least they could have done was actually fully eliminate the bottleneck at the east end of the bridge.  But that is not going to happen.  Instead, they will make it a bit better, but keep a bottleneck, then add variable rate toll lanes.  You can decide for yourself why that is but remember that variable rate toll lanes charge (and presumably make) more money when the free lanes are more congested.

— Roads to Nowhere

In what should not be a surprise to anyone:

The controversial idea this year to expand Florida’s toll system by 300 miles was first pitched by road builders.

Now, months after lawmakers signed off on the expansion, it appears road builders are the only members of the public voicing support for the idea.

Out of hundreds of public comments solicited by the Florida Department of Transportation in August about the largest toll system expansion in 60 years, only two dozen came from people in favor of building the three roads.

Of those, nearly all came from road builders, contractors and engineers who sent their endorsements via personal email addresses without disclosing their employers.

About half of favorable comments came from employees of one of the transportation agency’s biggest contractors: HNTB, which has won nearly $1 billion in engineering and construction work since 2002 and is likely to win millions more if the roads are built. (Some of HNTB’s work included overseeing the hiring of Conduent State & Local Solutions to overhaul the state’s SunPass system six years ago, a job Conduent botched.)


Johnson did not write in from his HNTB account or disclose that he was an HNTB employee, choosing instead to identify himself as the president of a gun store he appears to own.

Nearly every other HNTB employee who wrote in repeated identical talking points, and all sent their comments in within a few hours of each other. Most commented from their personal email addresses, but one identified herself as a University of South Florida student.

And you may remember:

The idea to build the roads was rejected by three previous Republican governors until January, when Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, announced he wanted the state to build an entirely new toll road from Polk to Collier counties, extend the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border and extend Florida’s Turnpike to meet the Suncoast.

Galvano said he heard about the roads idea during a pitch by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Transportation Builders Association. The roads are expected to cost billions of dollars if they’re built.

The president of the road builders group is Ananth Prasad, who worked for HNTB before being named by Gov. Rick Scott to be Department of Transportation Secretary in 2011. Prasad left the state job in 2015, then spent two more years with HNTB before leading the road builders association.

But it’s the Department of Transportation, not bills passed by lawmakers, that typically chooses where new roads are built, usually after intense studies and needs assessments. The three new toll roads weren’t in the department’s long-term plans.

The fact is that there never was a no ground-swell of public support for these roads.  And, while we have not done polling, we also think that is you asked most people if they would rather the State spend billions on highways that do not serve them or spend the money on transportation and services they need, they would choose the latter.

As we have said over and over, there may be a time when these roads make sense.  This is not the time.  Florida has bigger needs.

— Another Referendum?

Even with the referendum stuck in the courts, Hillsborough has now made a clear choice that is different from Pinellas or Pasco regarding transportation.  Maybe that will change:

The Pinellas County Commission is inching closer to choosing a way to pay for more than $400 million worth of transportation projects, with three of the seven commissioners saying they are leaning toward a 2020 sales tax referendum as the preferred approach.

Officials this year have taken part in numerous meetings and discussions that explored the county’s transportation needs and evaluated options to pay for them. They are expected to make a decision in the coming months, following additional briefings from county administrator Barry Burton.

Commissioners Ken Welch, Dave Eggers and Pat Gerard told the Tampa Bay Times they believe a sales tax is emerging as the best option to pay for the county’s needs. Their colleagues Charlie Justice, Janet Long, Kathleen Peters and Karen Seel said all options are on the table and they need more information before they decide.

The question is what would it be for.

Local transportation leaders warned that the county’s transportation trust fund will hit zero in fiscal year 2022. Additional revenue sources would be needed to maintain existing services. Even more would be needed to pursue new projects.

But in order to decide what funding option is the best for Pinellas, commissioners said it was important to first identify the county’s needs.

Burton has put together a presentation for the public and local officials that focuses on reducing congestion, improving safety and enhancing transit. His proposed project list includes:

“It’s a broader based, bigger picture look at congestion management and traffic issues,” Eggers said.

The cost to build those projects, and others that address only unincorporated Pinellas County, is estimated at nearly $400 million. Annual operating costs were more than $31 million. County staff warned that not all the projects listed would receive money, depending on what path commissioners choose.

That is a start, but it is quite lacking in ambition, especially in transit.  Rather than really moving Pinellas forward, it is more like just not falling behind as fast. We will see what the Pinellas cities say, but we would not be surprised if they did not include a proper transit idea. Like we said, it is a start, but there is a long way to go. We will see what they come up with.

In the meantime, Hillsborough should not hold back its ambitions. Just like with the idea of a referendum, better to move forward and let the neighbors catch up.

— Virgin Trains

The Virgin Trains Tampa-Orlando Route negotiation deadline has been extended again.

A proposed high-speed train route between Orlando and Tampa anticipated to commence in 2021 had another deadline extended for right-of-way negotiations.

Miami-based Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, received more time for its negotiations to use the Interstate 4 corridor to connect Orlando to Tampa. Virgin Trains, Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation had an Oct. 3 deadline to enter an agreement, but as of today no agreements have been reached regarding the Orlando to Tampa route, a Central Florida Expressway Authority spokesperson told the Orlando Business Journal, a sister publication of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Negotiations now have a Jan. 1, 2020, deadline, buying Virgin Trains, CFX and FDOT another 90 days to reach an agreement. Virgin Trains was the sole bidder to submit a proposal to build an intercity rail line along I-4, which has been designated for federally funded high-speed rail.

The original deadline was September and was extended. We are not sure what the hold-up is.  One could argue that giving multiple extensions is a sign that the State wants to get a deal done, but it would be nice if the deal was actually concluded.

— 275LX

We saw a tweet on the Airport Twitter page that caught our attention.

From Pasco County to TPA with just three stops in between?? We’re all for this route!

Tampa Intl Airport

✈️ added,

[picture omitted]


Riding our @GoHART 275 lx bus from @FlyTPA to Downtown Tampa… zip zip zip… and we are there!! #FDOT

7:34 AM – 2 Oct 2019 

To which URBN Tampa Bay replied:

Yes, because nothing says better transportation like a 20+ mile long bus route that doesn’t serve any of the neighborhoods it passes through, even though their money was used to fund it.

(You can find information on the route here.) And to a large degree, URBN Tampa Bay is right.  And we are not completely sure why this is a HART responsibility, especially the Wesley Chapel leg.  Pasco should pay for that, if it does not already.

But there is another angle.  We keep saying that we oppose the “BRT” plan and that there be an express bus to Pasco and then focus on real transit in Hillsborough. That could be something like 275LX with limited stops downtown, near USF, and at the airport if proper local transit is created to get riders around Hillsborough (rather than spending time and money on the poor “BRT” plan).  We would be fine with that (as long as Pasco pays for its share).

— On an Island?

We have written about St. Pete Beach’s strange and not so coherent objections to the St. Pete- St. Pete Beach BRT line.  We have also noted that St. Pete Beach works hard to not really be part of PSTA.  Now they are working harder.

People looking to take the trolly from St. Pete Beach to Pass-A-Grille Beach will soon get a free ride thanks to St. Pete Beach’s new Micro-transit bus service.

The city has decided not to renew it’s contract with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) for that route. Instead, St. Pete Beach has signed a contract with BeeFree. It’s a company based in Miami, and it will operate the micro bus.

City manager Alex Rey said, PSTA will still provide services for people on the north side of the city, but will no longer go past the Don Cesar Hotel. The micro buses will run from the Don Cesar to the south end of the city. 

Sounds like a useful circulator for riders of the BRT when it stops at the Don CeSar.  In truth, we are not sure why a large bus would run south of the Don CeSar anyway.

Downtown – X Factor

A new project was announced for the lot with the Presbyterian Church just south of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa.

X Social Communities, a division of Property Markets Group, has filed plans with the city for a tower on more than an acre at the northeast corner of North Florida Avenue and East Zack Street. The existing historic church on the property will be kept on the site and incorporated into the design.

* * *.

Here’s what the tower will include:

* * *

If X Tampa comes to fruition, it will be a marked departure from the other multifamily towers built in downtown Tampa this real estate cycle. The other towers and mid-rise apartments in and around the urban core are pursuing renters by choice with high household incomes.

* * *

Residents can “rent by bedroom for the lowest rent,” the developer says on the website for its project in downtown Miami, known as X Miami. That tower opened in 2018; PMG is already pursuing a second tower — 49 stories and 646 apartments — in Miami. A bedroom with a personal bathroom in the existing X Miami tower starts at more than $1,300.

Here are some renderings and a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post



From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

We are not going to get into the business model.  Whether they can get that price for that product is an issue for the developer.  However, acknowledging that aesthetics are subjective, looking at the renderings, we find no angle that this building looks good.  The parking garage is hulking.  The tower portion extremely bland.

Moreover, URBN Tampa Bay reports this break down:

The project includes 306 units, 17,138 square feet of co-work office space, and 13,126 square feet of retail space. The church building will be kept and is set to be converted into a private club for the residents. 356 parking spaces are required by the code, and the developer plans to provide 409 parking spaces. The tower is 326 feet tall.

Looking at the site plan, we are having a hard time identifying clear retail space, except maybe the large space on the bottom left that looks like a cafeteria without walls or a kitchen. (Though we are open to the possibility we missed something.)

On the good side, there is pedestrian protection from the elements through an overhang (though the Polk Street façade is exceptionally devoid of any life). And they do seem inclined to have oak or other shade trees, not useless Palm trees.

We are all for redeveloping lots (preferably the multiple surface parking lots remaining downtown first) and mixed use, but there need to be active streets, especially along streets with a cycle track and on the way to the park. And mixed use needs to really be mixed use. Furthermore, the garage is just bad. Hopefully, they will do something to make it a bit more attractive. (URBN Tampa Bay has a nice write up about parking garages and how you can contact the City regarding this project’s garage here)

We know that not every building will be a work of art, but there are minimum standards that should apply.  Based on the renderings, this proposal is still not there.

Tampa Heights – Like This

While architectural style is subjective, basic building concepts are often not.  There are things that work in certain circumstances and help accomplish a goal and things that do not.  That is why there are building standards.

URBN Tampa Bay had an example from Tampa Heights:

On Monday, this 15-unit Victorian-style townhome project was approved for the northeast corner of 7th Ave. and Morgan Street in Tampa Heights by the Architectural Review Commission. The vote was 4-0.

The developer had originally proposed townhomes with no direct “walk-up” entrance. Instead, the exterior boundary of the property was a series of patios and porches and the front door of each unit simply led out onto the porch. After coming back with this redesign featuring classic “walk-up” units/brownstone-style entrances, the project easily won ARC’s approval.

This project will have a city council hearing, to resolve an underlying zoning issue. We will post that information when it’s out.

They linked to some documents from the developer, which you can find here.


From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And then provided their opinion:

We like the look of this, and this is a good demonstration of how walk-up units can make a project feel like it is organically part of a neighborhood. In other parts of town we often see mass-produced apartment fortresses proposed, where the ground floor units don’t have direct ingress/egress out to the sidewalk. Or if they do, the ingress/egress looks like a back entrance, not a front door. This project has its front doors right on the sidewalk, giving it a traditional home and neighborhood feel.

To be honest, we are not that fond of the (neo-)Victorian thing, but that’s ok.  That is a subjective element.  What we do like is the townhouse design and the real front doors (and the patios on upper floors).  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, if you want to create a real neighborhood feel, it helps quite a bit to have people have real front doors opening to the street. (We are not as sure about the front doors that exit to the walkway at the back of the lot.)  That is a basic concept that would not be too burdensome to enforce.

Hopefully, there will be much more of that.

South Tampa – Moving Forward

There was news about the Hyde Park House project.

Kolter Group has officially opened a sales gallery for the 22-story Hyde Park House, a luxury condo tower on Bayshore Boulevard.

The new sales gallery is at 142 W. Platt St., offering a scale model, a designer kitchen fitted with the appliances and finishes buyers can choose and an interactive presentation.

South Florida-based Kolter already has $30 million in condos reserved, the developer said; presales began in May, months before the sales gallery opened.


From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

As we said when this was announced, there are things to like about this project, but we have a few issues with it.  In any event, it seems like it is going to get built, it is just not clear exactly when.  We shall see.


— The Rent’s Too . . . High

We are all for nice developments and fancy amenities, but there is a problem:

Those are among the findings of the “2019 Rental Market Study,” done by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. Commissioned by the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which helps fund affordable and low-income rental projects, the study found that:

“This is the seventh one we’ve done,” said Anne Ray, an author of the study, “and each time the housing needs go up. That’s because more people are renting and also the affordability gap grows because rents are rising faster than incomes.”

As of last year, the most recent for which figures are available, the median household income in the Tampa Bay region was nearly $55,000. To avoid being “cost-burdened,” renters could pay no more than $1,750 a month at a time when many new apartments have prices starting at that amount.

(You can read more in the Times article here.) First, we understand that developers want to make money.  We also understand market forces.  And we are not really laying blame anywhere.  However, it still should be noted that housing costs are outpacing many people’s ability to pay for it, and that is a problem.  Even with relatively low rents (compared to other metros), our relatively low incomes still make it a problem.

We do not have a comprehensive solution, especially given the large number of people spending too much on housing.

— So Is the House Price

So, maybe you want to buy.

ATTOM Data Solutions, curator of the nation’s premier property database and first property data provider of Data-as-a-Service (DaaS), today released its Q3 2019 U.S. Home Affordability Report, which shows that median home prices in the third quarter of 2019 were not affordable for average wage earners in 371 of 498 U.S. counties analyzed in the report (74 percent).

There is a lot of data to sift through, but you can see a nice interactive map here. On it, you will find that Hillsborough requires 30.4% of its income to buy a house, which is close to the “affordability” line.  Pinellas and Pasco were at 33.3%. However, Hillsborough’s house prices were rising by 7.5% and income by only 2.9% (Pasco is 11.1% and 3.4%, while Pinellas is 4.7% and 3.0%), so the percentage of monthly income needed to buy a house should be increasing, lowering affordability. And, as usual, none of that includes transportation costs. (And none of that discusses the different margins on building different sizes of homes.)

Then there are the challenges of building affordable housing, which the Times featured, sort of, in this article. The interesting thing about the article is that is discusses single family homes when it says things like this:

The economics of home building work against affordable housing. While there are some incentives, costs like permits are the same — about $13,000 in Tampa — no matter the price of the home, Robles said. And low-cost housing is most needed in urban areas, where land is most expensive.

“To produce the most inexpensive house you can, you’re starting with the most expensive element: that’s the lot of land itself,” he said.

While there is room to discuss having an offset for fees on designated and qualified affordable housing, more importantly, the use of the land is key.  If you want it to be more affordable, let there be more units on a lot.

— About that Income Thing

At the core of much of the housing issue is income. The Times had a column that sifted through some Census Bureau information.  One thing it said was:

Median household incomes in the Tampa Bay area reached $54,912 last year, which means half made more than that and half made less. That’s a significant $2,700 jump from a year earlier, but the area remains well behind the nation and many of its peer cities, even those with a similar cost of living.

Low pay remains a challenge in attracting and keeping talented workers, though it has helped lure companies looking for a low-wage workforce.

First, a we have often said, we have improved over our previous performance.  The question is how much have we improved relative to our competitors. Apparently, not that much.

Second, yes, low wages help lure companies looking to pay low wages.  However, that also perpetuates a low wage economy, especially since those who can often will leave to earn more elsewhere.  Another issue that does not appear in those numbers is that there quite an inequality gap that exacerbates many of the problems discussed above. We are not saying there are easy solutions to any of this, but it needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

Airport – Interesting

Delta is adding a nonstop flight from Tampa to Seattle.

Delta Air Lines will connect Seattle/Tacoma and Tampa next year, its first new domestic route from Seattle for next year.

The SkyTeam Alliance carrier will offer a daily flight between the cities with Boeing 737-800 aircraft that seat 160 passengers, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. Tampa (TPA) will be Delta’s second nonstop flight to Florida from Seattle (SEA), joining Orlando (MCO).

* * *

Delta established its Seattle hub in 2014 to support its growing Pacific gateway at the airport. The airline will operate up to 180 peak-day flights from the airport by next June, Diio schedules show.

It will be another connection to Delta’s trans-Pacific network. And, obviously, it will compete with the Alaska Airlines flights to Seattle.

Tampa is an interesting airport because, unlike many other major airports, it does not have a dominant airline.  It will be interesting to see how the competition develops as the area grows.


St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is moving forward with a project to rehabilitate its main runway.

Pinellas County commissioners approved a bid award to Ajax Paving Industries of Florida LLC that specializes in concrete and asphalt manufacturing for the Runway 18-36 rehabilitation project.

This project involves removing the asphalt and other expenses as well as extending Runway 4-22.

As we said a few weeks ago, this is good, especially given the Coast Guard station.

Pasco – Subsidizing Sprawl

The Times had an article about how much the Pasco County government wants more office space in Pasco, so:

Later this month, Pasco County commissioners will consider a $2.9 million incentive for Colwell Avenue Properties, which is under contract to acquire nearly 22 acres from the LeDantec family at 17905 SR 54 in Lutz. The undeveloped site abuts the Ballantrae subdivision and sits between a Pasco County fire station on the east and a strip of retail stores to the west.

Colwell Avenue Properties, an affiliate of the Rizzetta & Co. property management firm, plans to build a pair of three-story office buildings that will each total 60,000 square feet. If approved, as expected, it will mark the third time since 2017 that the county has agreed to help finance Class A office space on speculation.

Setting aside the questionable nature of subsidizing regular office development (market forces, anyone?), the Times article contained renderings and an overview of the development (here).  It is completely standard, low-rise development with a large surface parking, and oddly placed retention ponds, lot off of SR54.

In other words, Pasco not only approves of, but actively wants to fund, sprawling development along a corridor that is already a mess.  It really is sad that they have no learned from all of Hillsborough’s mistakes.


You can find your Rays news here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (and, tangentially related, there is this).

Though we decided to note one paragraph in one Times commentary regarding low attendance:

For two decades, we have sought answers and pointed fingers. And yet nothing has changed.

Actually, much has changed.  But a few things have not changed much: the location of the Trop (and real transit access to the Trop from across the Bay), and the population of St. Pete and Pinellas County.  In the meantime, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, and almost every other local county keep growing quickly, among other things making the Trop even less central.  (And, in that vein, there was this.)

None of that is really new.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There have been discussions recently about air taxis in the Tampa Bay area. While there have been no tests, the New York Post recently had a comparison of Uber helicopter, which is a bit different, with transit.

The Post put Uber’s new helicopter shuttle to JFK to the test, racing the car-sharing company and its chopper from Midtown to the hub against old-fashioned New York City Transit — which proved three minutes swifter at a sliver of the price.

You can read the article here.  Reuters did their own test here.

Additionally, the Atlantic had an article about the Uber service, to a degree, though it touched on a broader idea:

Even before Uber announced its helicopter service from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport for $200 to $225 a ride, transportation in major U.S. cities already reflected the growing inequality within them. Buses creep through streets choked with cars. Major subway systems are in disrepair. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley companies are selling the idea of escape to those who can afford it—often at the direct expense of those who can’t. Big cities are suffering from a mobility crisis. The delusion that the wealthiest American urbanites can buy their way past that crisis helps explain why it isn’t being fixed.

That sounds very much like express lanes. In any event, you can read the article here.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Previously, we have discussed the predictions that self-driving cars will actually increase congestion and traffic.  This week, there is more:

An increase in driverless cars that some in Europe anticipate will occur between now and the year 2050 could result in what one research group likens to “rush hour that lasts all day.”

The report, released last month from Europe’s Transport & Environment, calls the potential “Wild West” unregulated increase in driverless cars a threat to commute times and stress levels that could make Europe’s climate goals “all but impossible to achieve.”

You can see the article here. See also here. You can find the study here.

Because We Can

We noticed something interesting over at Water Street recently.  You can see it from this still shot from the USF Med School construction webcam (here).

From the USF Med School webcam – click on picture for website

If you notice, the tower cranes are not the usual tower cranes (a-frame tower cranes) you see in this area.  They are the kind (luffing/luffing jib cranes) used in areas where normal tower cranes cannot rotate without hitting something.   We are not sure, but that might be a first for this area.

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