There were some dropped jaws and quizzical looks after that recent Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization vote that nixed a plan for going after federal dollars to extend Tampa’s 2.4-mile streetcar line. This came one day after Tampa City Council had voted to do just that.
What was at stake was some $3 million in federal transportation funds to take the line from the Tampa Convention Center north to Whiting Street near the Fort Brooke Parking Garage — about three-eights of a mile. The plan was part of an overall, long-term strategy to create a more diverse ridership by luring downtown workers.
The 6-5 vote did not include Tampa City Councilman Kevin White, who had to leave early. But it did include a surprise “no” from the Tampa Port Authority representative, Deputy Director Zelko Kirincich. The Port Authority, with lots of frontage on the line and conspicuously appreciative of any cruise-passenger amenity, has been a streetcar supporter.
Proponents of the streetcar – and eventually light rail for Tampa – see the MPO vote as a serious blow to the trolley’s future as something more than an economic development tool and tourist attraction. They also see the heavy-handed yet deft orchestration of Commissioner Ronda Storms at work.
They’re now looking to Mayor Pam Iorio, whose long-term outlook envisions the trolley as a viable automobile alternative, for help. Said one insider still taken aback by the MPO vote: “The question is, ‘Does the mayor have the will and ability to turn this thing around and get it re-heard.'”
In other words, will the mayor go to new Interim Port Director William Starkey – Kirincich’s boss – and ask him to step in? Is the street car extension – and future commuter scenarios — important enough right now to warrant a battle of the bully pulpits with Ronda Storms?
Or is it already time to quote Santayana again?