Tampa’s TECO Line Streetcar system could be modernized and expanded by 2024. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Once one of Florida’s largest, carrying nearly 24 million passengers in 1926, Tampa’s original electric streetcar system shut down for good in 1949. 53 years later, the city welcomed streetcars back with the 2002 opening of the TECO Line Streetcar system, connecting the Channel District with Ybor City.

While the 2.7-mile heritage streetcar line assisted with the stimulation of billions in transit oriented development along its route, stopping just short of actually penetrating downtown, the transit system grew to become more of a tourist train than a real mass transit option for residents and downtown workers.

What has long been considered by many to be a shiny ornament, is being viewed as a potential central component of a transit friendly community in the present climate. Due to an October 2018 state grant allowing Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) to expand service hours and eliminate fares, ridership on the fledgling trolley has tripled over the last year.

Tampa Streetcar Modernization and Extension map

Now armed with the November 2018 approval of a one-cent sales transportation sales tax by Hillsborough County voters, the TECO Line Streetcar system appears to be on its way to being modernized and expanded to become the state’s first modern streetcar system.

Currently, the City of Tampa intends to fund a 1.3-mile extension of the system through Downtown Tampa and into the neighborhood of Tampa Heights. The purpose of the project is to connect Downtown districts, serve diverse travel markets, improve first and last mile connections, support economic development and expand sustainable transportation options. This would be achieved with a proposed extension alignment constructed as a north/south couplet pairing Florida Avenue and Tampa Street between Whiting and Franklin streets.

The Atlanta Streetcar (Ennis Davis, AICP)

In addition, the entire heritage system will be upgraded and modernized, allowing existing heritage trolleys to be replaced with larger, higher capacity modern vehicles similar to new systems operating in cities such as Detroit, Atlanta and Kansas City. Modification plans include the retrofitting of eleven existing stops to accommodate modern streetcar vehicles.

With the urban core’s continued rapid growth, it is believed that larger vehicles traveling in dedicated guideways provide the greatest degree of flexibility for meeting future demands while minimizing traffic congestion constraints.

Construction could begin as early as 2021, with the start of revenue service taking place in 2024. However, the project isn’t cheap with the estimated capital cost possibly being between $99.6 million and $102.6 million.

The QLine Streetcar in Detroit. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com* *