Tampa Bay is the 18th largest metro area in the country, and we’ll welcome another 850,000 new residents by 2040. Traffic congestion is getting worse every day and our transit options are limited. If we want to keep our economy moving and provide our residents with access to jobs and opportunity, we have to build for the future. It’s time to take the first real step toward solving our regional transportation challenges.

A Regional Vision

A Regional Transit Feasibility Plan (RTFP) was funded in 2016 by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to develop a vision for a premium regional transit system between Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Now complete, this vision identifies the critical projects that, together, will create a comprehensive transit network connecting Tampa Bay.

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Tampa Bay Bus Rapid Transit

The RTFP also recommended an initial “catalyst” project with the greatest potential to compete for state and federal funding: a 41-mile regional bus rapid transit project, connecting Wesley Chapel, USF, Downtown Tampa, Westshore, Gateway/Carillon and Downtown St. Petersburg along the I-275 corridor.

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Think of this regional BRT project as the equivalent of commuter rail, but on rubber tires instead of steel wheels.

If executed at the highest level, BRT is a great way to get many of the benefits people love about rail – it’s modern, fast, reliable, comfortable and safe, but at a much more affordable cost. Plus, we can implement it quickly to address our transportation challenges now. If we preserve a dedicated transit right-of-way along the entire 41-mile route, we’ll also have options for the future.
The capital cost of the Tampa Bay BRT project is currently estimated at $455 million. Because construction of the project's dedicated lanes can be aligned with FDOT’s already-planned improvements to I-275, much of this investment will go toward high-quality vehicles and modern, multi-modal stations that are integrated with the surrounding neighborhoods. We believe this project can be funded through state and federal grants, public private partnerships and other creative approaches, without putting an additional burden on local governments or residents.
Strong local transit service is critical to the success of regional transit. We know that our local transit agencies are seriously underfunded, and we’re happy to see that efforts are being made to address those concerns. But without a robust regional transit system linking the local systems, we’re limiting opportunity for our residents and businesses. As a regional economy, we know that mobility shouldn’t end at the county line. The Tampa Bay BRT project would create a regional spine that connects the major activity centers in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, and provide our residents greater access to jobs and opportunity throughout Tampa Bay.
We have a limited window of time to take advantage of two significant opportunities. First, the imminent timing of FDOT’s interstate improvements efforts means we need to act quickly to incorporate the Tampa Bay BRT project into planning and design, so we can realize the cost-savings benefits. Second, between 2019 and 2022, elected officials from Tampa Bay will serve as presiding officers in both the Florida House and Senate… powerful positions that should ensure we’ll have the critical support we need in Tallahassee.
A November vote by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) will move the Tampa Bay BRT project toward the Project Development phase, where important questions will be answered regarding the length and location of the dedicated transit lanes, the number and location of the stations, how those stations will be integrated with the community and other modes of transit, and how much the project will cost once those decisions are made. This is also our chance to set the bar high and push for a Gold Standard project, including a dedicated transit right-of-way along the full 41-mile route, modern stations that trigger transit-oriented development, and a high level of frequency that encourages strong ridership.

Future Projects

A number of other transit projects that would provide critical local connections to the Tampa Bay BRT are currently in development throughout the region.

Tampa Streetcar Expansion

The Federal Transit Administration approved the City of Tampa’s request to enter project development under the Small Starts program, which would cover up to half of the estimated $100 million cost to extend the Streetcar route through the downtown core and into the Heights. An additional $70 million will be needed to modernize the existing route.

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Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit

The Central Avenue BRT, an 11-mile BRT route connecting downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches, is on the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts list and is well positioned for federal funding to support the $41 million project. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019, with service beginning as early as 2020.

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