By staff writer
Tampa’s growth from mid-2017 to mid-2018 propelled it into the top tier of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, according to figures released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau. Tampa had the nation’s ninth largest increase in population among all U.S. metro areas, and the highest level of net domestic migration in 2018, with 132,602 new arrivals from other parts of the U.S.
Along with Orlando, which came in at No. 5, Tampa leads the way in Florida, a state in which the population growth rate was the fourth highest in the United States between July 2017 and July 2018.
All of that growth leads to growing traffic and higher transportation needs. Solving the ground transportation needs isn’t just a concern for the residents of Tampa, as the effects are also felt at local well-known staples like the Tampa International Airport. “From the standpoint of the airport, we see our passenger traffic doubling over the next 20 years,” said Joe Lopano, CEO for the Tampa International. “That means that the roadways have to be capable of taking our travelers to the beaches or museums or wherever else they want to go. At the present time, they aren’t capable of doing that, so we’re looking for solutions.”
Plans to expand Brightline’s high-speed rail to the city solves one piece of the solution, Lopano said, “but there’s no silver bullet. It’s going to be a combination of things, and the fact that Uber and Lyft exist has enabled rail to be a viable alternative. Ride sharing solves the first-mile, last-mile problem.”
The main question, of course, is how Tampa Bay will deal with the increased traffic. Beth Alden, the executive director for the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning for Transportation, said that local municipalities are heading in the right direction. After convincing the local public that there was a there was “a multi-billion dollar disconnect” between its current spending plans and the realities of the city’s growing transportation needs, “last November, Hillsborough County’s voters approved a one-penny sales tax, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward transportation investments.” She said it was a watershed moment. “This sales tax will help us achieve our vision for the future of transportation.”
She said that besides building, expanding and fixing roads, the city is also working on improving transportation options for bicycles and pedestrians across the city, expanding pathways on and off barrier islands, and improving intersections. Improving access to alternative fuel sources and trolley systems are another priority.
“When you look at it from a regional standpoint, we’re the gateway to the west coast of Florida,” Lopano said. We have been able to increase our international travel by more than 125 percent since I started. That’s extremely important because every time we bring in a new international live body on a daily basis it generates $154 million in economic impact to our community. That’s critical.’
“Tourism in Florida is extremely important, and we want to be a part of its growth.”
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