Orlando GOP Congressman comes to Tampa to hear Bay area's upcoming transportation projects

Before the meeting began, Mica told CL it would mostly be a listening session for him to get himself up to speed about some of the current and future transportation issues in the Tampa Bay area.  But in fact the Congressman dominated much of the meeting, at times cutting off presenters as he demonstrated his wide knowledge of issues in the state and in the country when it comes to transportation projects and the funding for them.

"It's important that the Tampa Bay area succeed with positive transportation alternatives," he said in his opening monologue.   "We've got to figure out a blueprint to succeed," he followed,  adding that he wasn't sure what was the status of the various projects going on in the region.  "We gotta get you in the race so you can compete and you can win," he said, referring to getting federal dollars to help pay for such projects as a potential light rail system in Hillsborough County.

Mica hailed the state legislature for their special session in December, which paved the way for the federal government to authorize $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money for a high-speed rail line that will run from Tampa to Orlando in January.  "Out of rubble came a great success," he said, referencing some of the turbulence that occurred during that session before lawmakers came to an agreement, which aided SunRail in central Florida and Tri-Rail in South Florida.

There will be a total of five stops on the Tampa to Orlando High-Speed Rail line, with one of those stops to be in Lakeland, at a site yet to be determined.     Mica said he would go to Lakeland and speak with Congressman Adam Putnam to help out if there is any negative impact from the construction there, but said about HSR overall, "That project is the only one in the next 50 y ears that will take trucks off the Interstate and will take freight in a more cost effective energy efficient way."

Others who were at the meeting included Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickhouse, St. Pete City Councilman Jeff Danner, as well as officials with HART, PSTA, and TBARTA.

Orlando area Congressman John Mica said today it was important that a rail component be centered at Tampa International Airport, which he said would increase flight traffic for the airport for those who would like to visit the Orlando area.

Saying that Orlando's airport took in more than 35 million people last year, Mica told a representative from TIA who said that approximately 19 million passengers used the airport last year that "We've got to get that up.  Way up."  And later, when hearing from Florida Dept. of Transportation's Don Skelton that all of the road work leading into TIA had been completed, Mica snapped, "It's been a mess."  When informed it's taken five years to finish up that work, the Congressman joked "It seemed much much more."

Those comments from Mica, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, were provocative in an otherwise relatively straight up roundtable discussion on transportation at Stetson Law School in Tampa today.  More than  30 local officials, including Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel and ConnectUs' Ed Turanchik were in attendance.

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