Tampa Int'l Will Be Ready for Light Rail Route

Tampa International Airport will take a step toward becoming a link in a possible county- or regionwide light rail system by developing a site plan for rail stations at the airport.

Airport officials want the study, which is estimated to cost about $430,000, to be completed by Oct. 31, 2007. The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority will begin advertising for consultants in two weeks.

"We want to find out exactly how to put a rail system through Tampa International - through and not just to the airport," TIA director Louis Miller said.

"It would be something that would come in the front door, stop at the main terminal and the new North Terminal [envisioned for 2015] and maybe go out the back to Westchase, Oldsmar and beyond."

The most recent light rail plan for the Tampa Bay area would have linked New Tampa and downtown with the West Shore area, but was shelved when the county commission failed to pursue it in 2003.

Local interest in transit options has picked up in recent months, including a pitch by the Tampa Bay Partnership regional economic development group that says improving transportation is the area's main business priority.

Orlando got a major boost Wednesday toward developing a commuter train system when Gov. Jeb Bush announced a $491 million deal with Jacksonville-based CSX Transportation Inc. to use its tracks for diesel commuter trains.

The first phase of the Orlando commuter operation would be running by 2009 with the rail system eventually covering 61 miles from DeLand through Orlando to Kissimmee.

"We need light rail service in Tampa Bay," Miller said. "We are convinced it will happen at some point in the future."

Tampa airport officials provided a preview of their proposed fiscal 2006-07 budget to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday with $95.3 million in proposed capital improvement projects, ranging from taxiway expansions to children's playgrounds for Airsides A, E and F.

An additional $105.7 million in capital improvement projects will be carried over next year from the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, Miller said. Those include a new rental car garage expected to be completed by mid-November.

Travelers using the airport or driving past it are well aware of massive construction projects in the area, the latest being a yellow bridge that crosses Interstate 275 to mount the main runway's Instrument Landing System lights.

Widening of the George Bean Parkway, which is the gateway to the airport, is expected to be completed in late February 2008. State highway construction on the airport interchange and nearby links to North Tampa and Pinellas County will not be ready until at least two years later.

Yet another new project scheduled to be completed in November will enable airport parking customers to check in and check out of the garages with credit cards, compared with presenting their credit cards to an attendant. Planned use of the SunPass automated toll system at parking garages is expected next year.

The aviation authority will consider the new budget and review proposed 2007 goals at September's monthly meeting, including increasing domestic jet service by 3 percent for domestic destinations and increasing international passengers.

The airport expects passenger traffic will increase 2.5 percent in fiscal 2006-07 to 9.8 million departing passengers, despite a 31 percent reduction in seats offered by Delta Air Lines, the airport's second-largest carrier.

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