Tampa targets streetcar expansion for infrastructure bill funds

While some drivers would like to see every penny spent on new and bigger roads, Tampa’s mayor says we need to change our view of mass transit

"Mass transit in the south is more than two people in an SUV," said Mayor Jane Castor. "We have to get people used to riding the bus, to riding the streetcar and seeing that as a very reliable and safe mode of transportation."

The mayor invited a group of transportation leaders for a day that included a ride on Tampa’s historic streetcar. Among her guests was the state transportation secretary who will have a say on how Florida’s federal infrastructure dollars will be divided. 

Castor is focused on getting people to and from downtown, the airport, and the University of South Florida Tampa campuses.

"As our urban core continues to explode, we need those transportation solutions," says Castor.

One of her top solutions is expanding and modernizing the streetcar, at a cost of $234 million, with sleeker, larger and faster cars that would roll on a longer streetcar system. It would stretch north of downtown to Tampa Heights and Armature Works, and through neighborhoods north of the interstate. 

"Historically, those were the neighborhoods that were separated by the intestate and did not benefit from all the progress and prosperity that’s happening in Water Street and downtown and West Ybor," said Vik Bhide, Tampa’s mobility director.

City officials say the modern streetcar is planned, virtually shovel-ready, and just needs federal infrastructure dollars.

Bhide says the project may also require local dollars, which could come from a local sales tax. A one-cent sales tax was approved by local voters but struck down by a court. It could soon be put to voters again. 

Castor says she doesn’t yet know how much infrastructure money Tampa may receive or when it would arrive.