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Light Rail Key To Airport's Future

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TAMPA - Advocating for a local light rail system, Tampa International Airport director Louis Miller said planners must enlist community interest to fund construction of a rail network to link the airport, downtown and outlying residential areas.

Pinellas County eventually should be included in a light rail network that cities nationwide have embraced, Miller said Thursday in launching the airport's update of its 20-year master plan, which calls for a new runway, another main terminal and other improvements.

``We have had plans for a light rail network on our master plan since 1999, and we realize it will not happen overnight,'' Miller said. ``However, light rail can help avoid significant capital investments for roadways and parking.''

Miller's comments punctuated the first of a series of aviation authority workshops that will include public sessions as part of updating the airport's long-range plan for 2005 to 2025.

In the short run, Tampa International is on target with construction of a new Airside C, scheduled for completion by April 2005. The 16-gate terminal mostly will serve Southwest Airlines.

The airport continues work on a remote parking garage. The first phase of construction will add 3,966 spaces by Thanksgiving 2005; the second phase will add 1,705 a year later; future expansion could add 2,330.

Over the next two decades, Tampa International is expected to add a third north-south runway near the Veterans Expressway to handle an ever-increasing number of flights, giving the airport four runways overall.

It expects to construct an additional main terminal north of the current terminal complex and add parking, building two terminals for light rail if that system is implemented.

Tampa International will prepare for a new generation of 550-passenger jets, although few of those giant aircraft are expected to serve Tampa soon. The airport's runways could handle the Airbus A380, expected to enter service in 2006, but taxiways must be modified because of the A380's wingspan.

The current long-range plan envisions the new runway by 2012 and the new terminal by about 2020.

Ricondo & Associates of Chicago, consultants for the new master plan, retained seven other firms to contribute to the update, expected to be ready by November 2005.

The aviation authority also will consider a University of South Florida proposal to create an economic impact study for the airport, which could become part of the master plan.

Miller said that in the long term, the area might consider a regional approach to airport planning that would include Sarasota Bradenton International and St. Petersburg- Clearwater International airports.

Tampa International, which draws 32.7 percent of its passengers from Pinellas County and an additional 10 percent or more from Manatee and Sarasota counties, expects to learn - when consultants update data - that it draws even more passengers from outlying areas.

That makes ground transportation planning even more critical because gridlock would hinder Tampa International's chances of maintaining its growth and sustaining area economic development, said Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Commissioner Stephen Mitchell, a Tampa lawyer who has served on various local transportation boards.

``Light rail would affect people every day as they go to work, compared with the occasional travel people would make between Tampa and Orlando,'' said Mitchell of the two proposed rail systems.

Miller pointed out that 20 percent of the passengers who use Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport use the capital's rail system to get to their flights.

In January, Houston launched the first 8-mile section of a light rail system that took 25 years of planning.

Atlanta long has benefited from its rail connections to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Mitchell said. In recent months, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport have added rail connections.

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I am happy to see this. Originally the airport, for some unknown reason, did not want a conncetion to the planned train. Now they want it and the airport has some politicalp ull in this town.

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Well, I think there is little chance for region action unless Jim Sebesta or someone forces a regional agency down everyone'sthroat. Otehrwise we will (maybe) get two systems that don't talk to each other.

Guess we should write ole Sen. Sebesta a letter or two.

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Good idea.

It would be pointless to have two separate systems that don't interact.

At any rate, if there are two systems built, I see rail going in Hillsborough before Pinellas. With a truly centralized central city (that's the center for the county as well as the entire region), the idea could be sold easier. Also, Pinellas is just too suburban in style of development and thinking. Until Gateway and Central Pinellas develops into the mega-employment center it wantes to be (a la Westshore), and traffic gets to the point where it's fruitless to build more road, they won't see a need.

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