Experts Share What’s Next in Transportation at the 2016 Tampa Bay Transportation Supersession

By Jennifer Stutts, marketing communications director at RS&H

Autonomous vehicles, multimodal systems and innovative financing were among the themes of this year’s Transportation Supersession, Tampa Bay’s largest transportation forum hosted by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. The event, moderated by Mary Hamill, President and CEO of Global-5 Communications, featured a panel discussion with: 

  • Senator Jeff Brandes, Chair of the Florida Senate Committee on Transportation
  • Geoff Segal, Senior Vice President at Macquarie Capital, Inc.
  • Rick Homans, President and CEO of Tampa Bay Partnership

 

At the top of everyone’s mind was the future of transportation… and how we’re going to pay for it.

Between Lightning and Thunder

“It’s like the time between lightning and thunder,” said Senator Brandes to describe where we are today. “We know it’s coming but haven’t experienced it yet.”

To the Senator, the future of transportation includes electric and autonomous vehicles, which he described as “our generation’s transition from the horse and buggy to the Model T.”

“As the world gets more electric, the world of transportation is going to change dramatically… We’re also moving into an autonomous world, and we’re never going back.”

But it won’t be instantaneous. For a time, the Senator suggested, we’ll need to have a parallel system. And it’s important that we “maximize our options” by exploring a variety of systems.

 

A Transportation Spine

Maximizing our options was a point also made by Homans, who described the Tampa Bay region as being at a pivotal point in its history.

“At the 30,000-footlevel, infrastructure is the biggest challenge we face,” said Homans. “We have a chance to leap frog the status quo.”

To do that, Homans says, the region is in need of a transportation spine. He described a multimodal system with high-end bus rapid transit (BRT) running to USF, Downtown Tampa, Westshore, Carillon Park, and Downtown St. Petersburg. This would create a skeletal outline of an urban plan, identifying where other investments should take place.

For Homans, BRT is the way to go. “That’s why TBX is so important,” he says. “There are built in lanes for it.”

Stimulus Fatigue

So how do we pay for it all? For Segal, innovative financing tools are important to consider.

“It’s no secret that the gas tax will not be able to fully support the future of transportation, and there’s no money coming out of the federal government,” he said.

According to Segal, the history of transportation projects everywhere is that governments struggle to deliver them on time and on budget, so it’s hard to get the public to pass a tax for more funding. Governments that have used public-private partnerships (P3), on the other hand, have been able to complete more projects on time and on budget, he said. And because of that, they have a higher success rate of asking for public investment. Whether P3s will work in Tampa Bay or autonomous vehicles are here to stay, one thing is for sure: we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done.

As Homans said, “Real economic development happens when you’re at ground zero.” And the Tampa Bay region has the chance to be one of the first.

It’s obvious we’re on the verge of a historic shift in our industry. I think we all feel it. So the real question is, will we be ready?

The following organizations also participated in the planning of the 2016 Transportation Supersession: American Society of Highway Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, Florida Engineering Society, and Women’s Transportation Seminar. SMPS Tampa Bay sponsored the event.

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