The study, by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, claimed that Tampa Bay residents spent nearly a quarter of their household incomes on transportation in 2001 -- the highest percentage among 27 metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Officials at the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization say the study supports their view that Hillsborough County residents spend too much on roads and driving and not enough on public transit. "When you have a good public transit system, you can have choice," says Lucie Ayer, director of the planning organization.
Ayer's group has created a 2025 Long Range Transportation Plan for the area calling for expanded highways, but also 200 more buses, an extended streetcar system and light rail. Planners saw the study as bolstering the transit plan.
But there's a problem with the study, says the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research. "It doesn't jibe" with similar studies conducted in recent years, claims Ed Mierzejewski, director of the research center.
Researchers at the USF center found that the study's sample was too small to support its conclusions. In addition, the center found that transportation-related expenses for area residents ranked near the bottom in all categories used to calculate results, including time spent in cars.
The one factor that boosted Tampa to the top of the expense list was money spent buying cars. Steve Polzin, director of public transit research at the USF center, explains that because of lower wage rates in Tampa, buying a car represents a higher percentage of a resident's income than in higher-paying areas.
While the center's review has clouded the political value of the study, both the research center and the planning organization agree that Tampa Bay's traffic situation requires a larger dose of public transit and road construction to keep up with growth. And both agree it will cost billions.
To raise the money, the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce has suggested the county commission add a referendum on the November 2004 ballot asking residents to pay for a 1-penny sales tax, a 5-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase and higher impact fees. The planning organization believes the public will respond more favorably to a half-penny sales tax increase.
"People are willing to pay for choice," says Ayer.
IN THE NEWS
Hardee County -- TECO Energy (NYSE-TE) sold its 370-megawatt Hardee Power Station in Hardee County to two Chicago companies for $115 million. GTCR and Invenergy, will also assume the station's debt. The Hardee Power Station will continue to serve both Seminole Electric Cooperative and Tampa Electric under former contracts.
Labelle -- Ben Hill Griffin III will reportedly step down as CEO of LaBelle-based Alico (Nasdaq-ALCO), an agribusiness company, as part of an agreement settling a five-year legal battle over the estate and trust of his father. Griffin's four sisters had accused him in a lawsuit of manipulating his father's trust to give himself a larger share. Under the agreement, Griffin will receive a 40% share of the trust while the four sisters receive 60%, including a controlling interest in Alico. Griffin will also take the family's citrus packinghouse in Frostproof, the fertilizer operations, several citrus groves, a portion of the cattle business and the Lake Wales Country Club. In addition to controlling Alico, the sisters also will get the 62,000-acre Blue Head Ranch in Highlands County.
Lakeland -- Publix Super Markets has shelved its online supermarket, PublixDirect, which it started in 2001, because it wasn't attracting customers. The online company will lay off its 400 employees at its Alpharetta, Ga., headquarters and its fulfillment center in Pompano Beach.
Polk County -- The only county-employed scientist qualified to analyze water samples to comply with the federal Clean Water Act has been laid off because of budget cuts. Joe King worked in Polk's Water Resources department for seven years. The county will now have to hire consultants to do the work in 17 municipalities.
Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet voted unanimously to add the 67-year-old Cypress Gardens to the state's conservation land-buying list. One of Florida's oldest tourist attractions, Cypress Gardens closed in April after its owners said they couldn't afford to run it anymore.
Southwest Florida -- Royal Bank of Canada plans to expand from 250 branches in the Southeast U.S. to about 400 through acquisitions, targeting several banks in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and other southwest Florida cities. In July, Royal Bank bought 13 branches in Sarasota from Provident Financial Group for $75 million.
St. Petersburg -- Construction will begin this month on a 217-room Hilton hotel in the Carillon Office Park.
Tampa -- The Tampa Port Authority has agreed to negotiate a deal with developers of the Downtown Channelside project -- two 30-story condominium towers that developers want to build on 3.5 acres owned by the agency. The $102-million project will include 250 condos priced between $300,000 and $500,000 and a commercial complex anchored by a grocery store.
The University of South Florida has added the state's first bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences to its curriculum.
Ybor City Brewing Co. will no longer be brewing its signature Ybor Gold in the historic building in Ybor City that once was a bustling cigar factory. The company's new parent, Florida Beer Co., has a contract with Indian River Beverage Co. to brew Ybor City's four microbrew labels as well as the labels of two other microbreweries, Key West Brewery and Miami Brewing Co., in Melbourne. Florida Beer will keep the company's headquarters in Ybor for now.
NAPLES -- For the first time in 40 years, a Florida rancher has shipped cattle to Cuba. Naples-based J.P. Wright & Co. this summer hauled more than 450 cows from two Florida ports to Havana with an estimated value of $300,000. Since Congress exempted food and agricultural products from the trade embargo in 2000, Cuba has purchased about $250 million in agricultural and food products from U.S. companies.