Local officials meet for grand opening of Tampa's streetcar extension

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio received a substantial cheer as she was introduced to those in attendance as a "fearless advocate for public transportation alternatives." Iorio said the streetcar project must never stop growing. The city depends on the infrastructure to support job growth and tourism in Florida.

Federal Transportation Administration official Peter Rogoff was the keynote speaker for the ceremony. According to Rogoff, the streetcar has created jobs for more than just those who constructed the project. “It’s also the jobs of every hotel, the construction of every condominium, the restaurants and all the businesses in between," he said. "That’s how these kinds of investments transform an economy."

This past weekend, pirates invaded Tampa Bay and streetcar ridership reached 20,000 people for the Gasparilla event. In late August of 2012, it will no doubt be instrumental in moving some of the 50,000 people expected to come to the Bay area for the Republican National Convention. “People scouting Tampa really care about the infrastructure like the streetcar,” said Iorio. “Most of our visitors really depend on our public transportation.”

“The investment from Channelside into Ybor City has really brought about a renaissance in our community and we’re just getting started,” said Congresswoman Kathy Castor. “During the economic boom, it just exploded. We were able to leverage these types of investments with private investment dollars that now have created this beautiful part of town.”

Castor believes we have to connect the streetcar to all the amenities and eventually to high-speed rail. “It has to continue on now to the investments that our community has made.” Those other destinations in between could be an extension to the area of town that hosts the Straz Center, the new Children's Museum and the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Streetcars were once the driving force for U.S. cities in the 1940s and ’50s, and they continue to make a comeback.

The city of Tampa, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)  came together in 2002 to bring back the once revered and historic streetcar to Tampa.

Today in downtown Tampa, HART  unveiled the new Whiting streetcar extension located on Franklin and Whiting streets.  The expanded route has been in existence since December, but today was the official grand opening.

Previously, the streetcar took riders from 20th Street in Ybor City and ended at the Dick Greco Plaza behind the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel. Now with the one-third mile extension, riders can go to the new Whiting Station located near the YMCA and Hattricks in the heart of downtown Tampa.

The $5.3 million project became possible with federal funds including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

According to David Armijo, chief executive officer for HART, the trolley has always operated at about a 10 percent deficit and he admits it needs more resources. “There are a number of options, including selling more advertising, building more ridership or even more naming rights,” he said.

In a time when people are looking for more options in face of the rising price of gas, the streetcar may become a more attractive service for Tampa residents. Ridership numbers are already going up. “The revenues have started to come back since we opened this extension in December. Our ridership jumped in December almost 15 percent,” said Armijo. “We projected 8-10 percent more ridership with this station, so we’re actually ahead of schedule.” He said  430,000 people ride the trolley each year.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.