Back in the summer of 2001, the city of Tampa was preparing for a visit by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Tampa, improbably enough, was on the official list of cities, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Baltimore-Washington, vying to be America’s choice in the international competition for 2012 Olympic Games’ host. As it turned out, New York was the American designatee, London was the ultimate winner and Tampa (actually a regional hub) was a transportation-challenged also-ran.
Here we are a dozen years later, the U.S. Olympic Committee has sent 2024 interest-gauging letters to the mayors of 35 American cities, and Tampa didn’t even get one. But Columbus, Ohio did. So did Rochester, N.Y.
From long-shot contender to no-shot pretender.
What changed in addition to the city no longer being interested in seriously bidding for anything bigger than a Super Bowl? Well, Tropical Storm Isaac was an unwelcome reminder of what late summer can yield. But also call it sick transit gloria. Extensive public transit is one of the minimal Olympic criteria. Thus, any would-be Olympics’ host with an ugly reputation for mess transit need not apply–nor expect a letter of inquiry from the USOC.
Recall that back in 2000, a constitutional amendment in Florida was passed requiring high-speed rail to connect major Florida cities. Then the following summer, the U.S. Senate approved a bill allocating seed money for a high-speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando. Seemingly, modern transit was in the Sunshine State–and Tampa Bay–mix. So, it wasn’t inconceivable that Tampa’s bid, a key of which was rapid-transit buses, inter-city rail and high-speed rail, didn’t have an element of plausibility. As it turned out, of course, it proved a reach too far–along with outrageously expensive subplots.
But, c’mon, not even a pro forma letter?
Well, maybe somebody noticed that our oxymoronic mass-transit still consists of buses and ad hoc HOV lanes. A regional light-rail referendum was voted down in 2010, and the following year Gov. Rick Scott pre-emptively declined billions from the federal government for that high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando. And just last week, Scott’s transportation budget was a paean to urban sprawl and those who still envision Florida paving its way through the 21st century. Who’s interested in a commitment to the long-maligned status quo and the logistical Games from hell?
No, Tampa is no longer an Olympic wannabe. Just ask Ed Turancik. That “obscenely expensive” folly is well behind us. But, still, it would have been nice to have at least gotten a USOC letter. Respectfully declining to participate ensures a level of respect.