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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 1 year ago

Naples to Tampa in 15 minutes? 'Loopy' idea could make it a reality

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Tampa Bay transportation agency considers some far-out ideas to improve traffic flow.

For all the joys of living and working in the Tampa Bay area, one of the region’s less appealing traits — some might call it an Achilles’ heel — is transportation. Traffic congestion has eased somewhat during the pandemic, but that (hopefully) won’t last. The region and state’s booming population means alternative modes of transportation will need to be part of long-term planning.

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) came up with a long-term feasibility plan for a $455 million, 41-mile bus rapid transit system that would link Wesley Chapel in the north to downtown St. Petersburg in the south. But the organization is also thinking outside the box — you could even say it’s thinking inside the loop. 

Wikimedia Commons/Cacophony. Portland, Ore., built an aerial tram system to ease traffic congestion. Could a similar mode of transportation work in Tampa Bay?

Courtesy of a $1 million state grant, TBARTA has poured resources into a study of what it would take to bring a 700 mph Hyperloop bullet train to the Gulf Coast. Hyperloop, a concept popularized by entrepreneur Elon Musk — though other companies, including Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, are also working on the technology — would whisk people from Naples to Tampa in about 15 minutes. While it sounds like science fiction, Hyperloop test tracks are already in development. 

“When it came to Hyperloop, our recommendation was that it needs to be looked at at a statewide level,” says Brian Pessaro, principal planner at TBARTA, “because with Hyperloop you're talking about trips in the 200- to 500-mile range, and that's something that is beyond the boundaries of TBARTA.” 

Also, Pessaro tells Coffee Talk, Hyperloop “is not cheap.” A Chicago-to-Cleveland feasibility study, he says, concluded that a system would cost between $16.4 billion and $20.8 billion, with an annual operating cost of $436.5 million. That kind of price tag would likely necessitate some sort of public-private partnership, he adds. 

Pessaro says TBARTA would like to see the creation of a statewide steering committee that would take the lead on Hyperloop. Meanwhile, using the $780,000 that remains from its grant, TBARTA has turned its focus to urban gondola systems — modeled on Portland, Ore.’s Aerial Tram — that could be used to link downtown Clearwater and Clearwater Beach, as well as connecting downtown Tampa to the St. Pete Pier and/or Tropicana Field. 

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