By Jim Bleyer
Improved mass transit is the top priority of the 238 businesses that comprise Innovation Place, the economic district anchored by the University of South Florida, the organization’s Executive Director Mark Sharpe said Friday.
Speaking at Cafe con Tampa’s weekly community forum, Sharpe conceded that Hillsborough County voters would determine the type of mass transit and how it would be financed, a reality some public officials have failed to recognize after seven years of dialogue and a failed referendum.
“What does the community want and is it willing to pay the cost,” he asked. “We need to have a serious conversation about transportation.”
A former Hillsborough County Commissioner, Sharpe envisioned dedicated lanes on Fowler Avenue for “high occupancy vehicles” which would then travel along I-275 to downtown Tampa with a spur to the Westshore area and Tampa International Airport.
Rail doesn’t draw talent, he emphasized, but it is an amenity that “talent likes.”
What Sharpe didn’t say: the public has emphatically rejected light rail as a means of mass transit financed by a regressive increased sales tax. Opponents of light rail have noted its failures elsewhere and enormous costs as well as the advent of advanced technologies that render it obsolete
Autonomous vehicles and ride sharing are “game-changing” technologies, Sharpe noted, calling the elimination of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission “a huge plus.” The taxicab company favoring PTC was seen as an impediment to ride sharing.
Turning to the plight of the financially-troubled Museum of Science and Industry, located across USF and within Innovation Place boundaries, Sharpe said that if it is moved to Jeff Vinik’s downtown development, the present MOSI property could be converted to a park for high-tech or commercial business. At the very least, MOSI could occupy a building half its current size, he added.