Mayor Bob Buckhorn: Republican National Convention could expose Tampa's transit troubles

8:32 PM, Aug 21, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida - Mayor Bob Buckhorn admits Tampa has a transportation problem. While he told 10 News he hopes the city is prepared for next week's Republican National Convention, he said the event could showcase the city's weaknesses.

"Anytime you host an event like this, you see your strengths and you see your weaknesses," Buckhorn said Tuesday. "Obviously, not having mass transit is a big weakness that the Bay area's had for a long time."

Buckhorn's comments come after a flurry of columns and headlines critical of Tampa's transportation and transit options.  They include a Tampa Bay Times editorial and Salon.com feature that called Tampa "America's Hottest Mess." 

Salon.com criticized Florida's rejection of high-speed rail, Hillsborough County's rejection of local light rail, and a number of studies that have ranked the region among the least-friendly toward pedestrians and traffic in the country.

"We've got to think beyond just expanding highways," Buckhorn, a Democrat, said. "We are the only region in the country without some type of mobility options. So, in spite of the referendum of a year ago and in spite of Gov. Scott's decision, the reality is we're going to need light rail at some point and we need to continue to work toward that point."

A downed sign on the Davis Islands bridge -- and the ensuing traffic problems on Tuesday -- showed how vulnerable Tampa was to transportation disruptions.

The RNC, with its 400-plus buses and highway shutdowns, could pose bigger problems.

The city was dealt a blow several months ago as well, when TBARTA and Buckhorn's administration discussed dedicated bus lanes on I-275 during convention week. However, FDOT told 10 News the issue was never studied, or seriously considered by the agency, because of infrastructure limitations.

"We think we can handle this convention's (transportation) without any real accommodations," Buckhorn said. "But I think, long-term, we need to plan for more people being here, more development occurring, more mobility options."

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