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Sunday, December 26, 2020

Traffic in Tampa Bay is bad and getting worse. One of the most acute areas is New Tampa, in northern Hillsborough County. And since most of the clog is on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, projects to widen that road are in the works, despite misgivings about whether or not it will improve the situation in a rapidly-growing sprawl zone.

This article by Michael Van Sickler has a lot of great information about the wider debate over continued exburb-like planning in Tampa, which make road projects like this more of an issue. The wrinkle for New Tampa is the just-as-robust development happening right across the county line in Pasco; Tampa has no control over that, but the resultant traffic that pours onto Bruce B. Downs impacts the city. Despite half-hearted measures to stem and plan this kind of growth, it’s only getting more chaotic.

How is it manifesting itself, aside from the traffic jams?

Not only do area residents pay the taxes that support further road expansion, they pay a greater percentage of their incomes for the cars they need to get to work.

A 2003 study by [Surface Transportation Policy Project] showed that Tampa families spend 25 percent of their income on transportation. That is the highest percentage in the United States and more than three times what they spend on health care.

And that basically wipes out the property value and tax advantages that the area has over comparable metro areas in other states. Along with the weather, that’s been a hallmark incentive for attracting residents.

Perhaps most frustrating of all, the resources spent in New Tampa detract from the downtown initiatives that Tampa is keen on jumpstarting:

Although officials say disaster awaits if they don’t widen the road, [associate professor of urban planning Ruth] Steiner, of the University of Florida, questions the timing. This is, after all, a time when Mayor Pam Iorio is pushing for more redevelopment of the city’s inner core.

“If you make it too easy to develop out there, you’re not encouraging redevelopment,” Steiner said.

Nor does it make for a faster commute. [Surface Transportation Policy Project president Anne] Canby said cities that invested heavily in expanding road capacity didn’t get less traffic than those cities that spent less.

The Texas Transportation Institute released a study this year that showed commuting trips got longer between 1982 and 2002, despite millions spent on road projects.

The average motorist in the Tampa Bay area was stuck in traffic 18 hours a year in 1982. By 2002, that delay had climbed to 42 hours a year.

Tampa is uncomfortably committed here, naturally. While redevelopment in the city center is preferable, it can’t abandon the north county development. As long as people continue to vote with their mortgages, New Tampa will be a factor. Twenty years of annexation of county land and developer deals aren’t going to be reversed. It’s looking very much like a situation that will have to implode, in the form of some massive economic slowdown, before a managable solution is found.

The viewpoint here is obviously very biased against a car-centric living area (one that I share). Proponents of the wide-open suburb/exburb spaces will argue that the continued influx of residents, which follows a national trend, shows that the concerns are exaggerated and not a factor for the very people most affected. If it comes down to it, higher tax and service rates would take care of the costs. If the area can do that and continue its growth, and not lose out to Pasco and other neighboring areas, so be it.

For me, when even the best-case scenario means hellaciously long commutes, I’d just as soon see the growth of condos and mixed-use development. Living half your life in a car isn’t a particularly appealing option. I’m not counting on ever seeing a dense-but-livable urban area like Manhattan or San Francisco develop here, but anything close would be welcomed.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/26/2004 11:34:09 PM
Category: Political, Society | Permalink |

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  1. You know, It alk a lot about urban planning and stuff on sites taht are devoted to that stuff — Skyscrapercity and Skyscraperpage. WHile you see cities boom, you also see them goign through growing pains like this.

    And for some sick reason, Tmapa comes off like a different bird in dealing with the problems. Not a different bird as-so-much a cheap, closed minded one.

    Ioriio, trying to help alogn the city center, has the right idea helpign to promote urband densification. The problem is that the high-rises and other pojects goign in tend to be out of the average commuters price-range as is… That and their jobs are out in the sprawl as well.

    One of the solutions that will be costly but, if planned correctly will be a reliever of congestion, is rail transit. Of course, it works better with urban centers and Tampa being so spread out (both sides of the bay) it makes things difficult. Office parks popping up in th sticks (Race Track Road area ) and in other suburban-like areas (Gateway,, along US 19, etc) wouldn’t make things easier either with planning in Pinellas.

    But something’s got to be done and someoen needs to start something.

    You can’t keep buildign roads or expanding roads. You can’t bow to developers if you’re not goign to have infrastructure capable of supporting the new developement.

    Odds are it willb e another 10 years befor eTampa even gets the ball rolling on Mass transit and by then the costs will be so devestating that planners will fight to stop this or to start it.

    Comment by John F — 12/27/2004 @ 09:08:41 PM

  2. Just annex the whole county
    …wider roads do not relieve congestion. We’ve been increasing the capacity of raods here forever, yet your commute…

    Trackback by Sticks of Fire — 12/29/2004 @ 11:58:30 AM

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