Guest post by Thomas Vacca
Tampa is in danger of losing young people to cities like Charlotte, Atlanta, and Austin. These cities have invested in robust transit options that connect people and move them to jobs, sporting events, and restaurants. These options don’t exist in Hillsborough, nor do they seem to be part of the county’s plans for the future. For most people here, driving a car is the only realistic option for every trip they make. It is incumbent on our Board of County Commissioners to create sustainable transit infrastructure for Hillsborough County.
Although some may view transit as a trendy amenity for millennials, it is an economic investment that drives growth — in Tampa Bay, but also in Clearwater and St. Petersburg. If trips to downtown are easy for citizens, that means more people will shop, dine, and support local businesses. I have spoken to many people who will never come to Downtown Tampa if they live in Wesley Chapel — and rightly so if they have to sit in traffic for 35 minutes each way. Every night they avoid going out (perhaps shopping online instead) is a loss to the local economy.
Besides moving people to enjoy what the local areas have to offer, transit makes it easier for new businesses to form in the region. While some may live in North Tampa and commute to Clearwater or St. Pete, the number would be larger with a transit infrastructure. Take for example, the ferry that was recently piloted from St. Pete to Tampa. A permanent ferry program with a commuter schedule would be ideal for people who want to live in Tampa, but work in St. Pete (or vice versa). This would make hiring pools larger for businesses in our region. To the county’s credit, a ferry between MacDill Air Force Base and Gibsonton is currently being considered.
Finally, rapid population growth in our region — and transit demands from young Hillsborough residents — should drive new transit solutions. Although millennials understand the return on investment of buying homes, we have no desire to sit in a car for two hours a day to get to work. It simply does not make sense. Projects to increase the number of highway lanes, like TB Next, are not viable solutions to the growth our region will see in the next 10 years — much less the projected growth of the next 20 years. More highway lanes simply increases sprawl, spreading people out, and increasing the number of cars on the highway. This is called induced demand, and is well understood. The only way to reduce the number of cars on the road is to build a robust transit infrastructure.
A robust transit infrastructure improves a region’s economy, its residents’ well being, and their safety. Damaging our neighborhoods to expand highways is not a sustainable path forward. It is time that our political leaders have some courage and step up for the good of this county, regardless of political affiliation. If our County Commissioners do not step up, Hillsborough will see young people leave for places like Charlotte that have solved this issue.