Tampa 2012 puts wheels on its bid for Olympics
By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- On the eve of the United States Olympic Committee's visit to evaluate Tampa's bid for the 2012 Summer Games, local organizers unveiled an expansive overhaul of the area's oft-maligned transportation system.
Under the plan released Wednesday, millions of people could be moved each day by rapid-transit buses, an intercity rail system, high-speed rail, Amtrak service and high-speed watercraft between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
"It's phenomenal," Tampa 2012 President Ed Turanchik gushed as his group rehearsed one of the key presentations for the USOC's site evaluation team Friday and Saturday.
So, too, is the projected price tag.
But URS officials said the cost would not be a burden on local taxpayers.
"There'd be a huge infusion of money from the federal government because it would be a national project," said Martin Peate, a senior transportation planner for URS.
Plus, he said, many of the buses, trams and other vehicles needed could be obtained through a federal lend-lease program. Many of the key transportation components are on the drawing board regardless of the Olympic bid, he said.
For instance, Florida voters in November passed a constitutional amendment that requires high-speed rail connecting major cities in the state, and buses could use high-occupancy lanes that eventually will run down the middle of Interstate 4.
Wednesday, the U.S. Senate approved a bill to contribute $4.5-million toward a high-speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando.
Transportation is an important element of a city's bid to host the Games.
"At the top of our list is you have to serve the athletes first and those related to them, then the visitors," USOC site committee chairman Charles Moore said recently. "That addresses transportation, it addresses accommodations and certainly it addresses the facilities and the ability to get from one facility to another."
The rapid-transit bus system, which is in the design phase and is considered a precursor to a light-rail system, is the backbone of the plan. Temporary priority ramps for buses would be built during the Olympics for entry and exit off the interstates.
There also would be Olympic-only lanes on Interstate 275 between St. Petersburg and Tampa, between Tampa and International Drive, between International Drive and downtown Orlando, along the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and on Interstate 75, as well as more than 30 park-and-ride locations with at least 500 spots.
Once folks are in the Tampa Bay area, buses, streetcars, trams, intercity rail and watercraft would move them to venues, hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions. Peate estimates the system could handle 260,000 to 830,000 people in downtown Tampa daily, and 268,000 to 519,000 people in St. Petersburg.
"I'm sure some people still may be skeptical, but in 14 months, which is right around the corner, we're going to know if we're the chosen American city," Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said. "And every day that goes by, I feel a little more confident that may very well happen. What this could do for the city is obvious. ... It could transform this community into what we'd like to dream but could never get to for maybe 20, 30, 40 years."
The USOC site team, which is due to arrive here from New York tonight, will conclude its tour of the bidding cities later this month with stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It previously visited Washington, D.C., Dallas, Houston and Cincinnati. When the tour ends, the group will pare the list by December or early next year and the U.S. candidate city will be chosen in October. The International Olympic Committee will name the host city in September 2005.
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