The purpose of this white paper is to help leaders in Tampa Bay understand how moving to a regional structure for transportation planning, operations and decision-making is key to developing a regional transportation system – and why a regional transportation system is one of the foundations of a strong economy for future generations. Effective transportation systems enable workers to reach employment, move citizens to and from areas of service and opportunity, and facilitate global trade and the shipping of products between producers and consumers. In these ways, transportation exerts a clear impact on economic growth.

The current county-based transportation decision-making structure in Tampa Bay was originally designed in 1970. But much has changed since then – and current data reinforces the need for a fresh approach:

  • The population of the four-county region has grown from 1 million to 2.9 million and this fact, in itself, supports the need for reform.
  • Roughly 20 percent of workers—nearly a quarter million people—in the metropolitan area commute to jobs outside their county of Even more commute across municipal boundaries.
  • Out of the nation’s top metropolitan areas, only the Atlanta region saw a greater increase, since 1970, in the share of poor residents residing in These neighborhoods tend to have the least access to transit services though the residents may be most dependent on it.
  • In relative terms to the largest 20 metropolitan areas in the United States, Tampa Bay ranks 19th in terms of transit supply.

While state Departments of Transportation build and manage the national Interstate Highway System, and cities and counties provide for local priorities and needs, the nation’s 409 metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) are tasked with providing the regional view that enables surface transportation projects to be planned and delivered at the right scale.

Because transportation, by nature, should operate so widely over each region it cannot be dealt with effectively by individual governments acting separately. Of the largest 20 metropolitan areas in the United States, only two lack a regional MPO structure: Tampa Bay and South Florida.

Stronger metropolitan planning and capital programming entities and/or processes across jurisdictional and modal lines are essential prerequisites to making better decisions on the investment of scarce public resources.

This paper recommends that the region’s leaders seek to consolidate the multiple MPOs into one regional MPO. This consolidation will involve a deliberate process during which key decisions will have to be made, including, but not limited to: the number of counties that will be represented in the new MPO; the governance structure of the new MPO, i.e. who and how many people will serve on the board; and creation of advisory committees to ensure input from local governments, citizens and other constituencies.

Beyond the obvious benefits from taking the regional view, research shows that regional MPOs offer other advantages, including:

  • Improved communication with community stakeholders and elected officials by serving as a convener and consensus-builder;
  • Sustained regional governance and decision-making;
  • Improved forecasting and planning due to access to better data and technology;
  • More efficient operations through economies of scale and consolidation of duplicative

The region’s transit authorities are county-based as well and, as a result, minimal transit operates across borders. For this reason, out of the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States, Tampa Bay ranks 77th in terms of access to jobs by transit.

Tampa Bay, Florida is home to nearly 3 million residents and is the 18th largest metro region in the country, bigger than Denver, Charlotte, or Orlando. It ranks 22nd in terms of number of jobs, and makes up 17 percent of Florida’s total gross domestic product.

This paper recommends that the region’s leaders seek to create a regional governance structure for the operation of transit agencies in the Tampa-St. Petersburg Urbanized Area, which includes the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. A governance structure that should be considered strongly is an umbrella or coordinating agency, in the form of a Regional Transit Authority, under which the county-based authorities and/or agencies would function. And, to facilitate development of even more regional transit, this new regional authority would be enabled to create inter-local agreements with transit agencies in the neighboring counties of the Tampa Bay region.

The data for Tampa Bay, and best practices from across the nation, make a compelling case that it’s time for Tampa Bay to move from its localized and county-based structures to regional transportation planning, operations and decision-making. To secure a strong economic future, it’s essential that the leaders of Tampa Bay recognize how important this change is, and take clear and certain steps to adapt to the best regional transportation governance practices that have been widely adopted across the nation.

The Eno Center for Transportation is working with the Tampa Bay Partnership to understand and inform a regional approach to transportation planning, operations, and decision making. Eno is grateful to the Partnership for providing financial support to make this project possible. 

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