I’m really really pleased to be here. It’s not because I like to imitate pirates. It’s not because it’s going to be freezing rain up in D.C. I’m really thrilled to be here to celebrate with the people of Tampa, Hillsborough County for competition of this streetcar extension. This is the kind of investment that the Recovery Act made possible.
The Recovery Act did extraordinary things -- really for public transportation all across America. It created jobs now right when we needed them but it created those jobs on projects that are going to improve the quality of life for economic prosperity for generations going forward.
So really on behalf of President Obama and Secretary Lahood I’m here to say congratulations and keep up the good work!
You know streetcars nationally are making a comeback. A lot of communities are discovering that while streetcars may not be the fastest transportation option, they really do extraordinary things in reviving downtowns and creating the economic development that creates jobs on an enduring basis going forward. Just in this corridor this streetcar line is less than three miles long. It’s now been estimated that amount of investment along this corridor has exceeded $1.2 billion. It’s not just about the jobs, that people pointed out that of the folks that constructed this lane, it’s also the jobs at every hotel and construction at every condominium, the restaurants and all the businesses in between that’s how these investments transform the economy. Now one of the things, that’s also worth pointing out is how popular this is in the economic backing, that is the tourism industry.
In the Gasparilla Festival that was just cited that the Mayor talked about, pirates were taking over the town, we’re still counting them up. It may be that ridership on the streetcar reached 20,000 folks in just one weekend (applause) and one thing worth noting after reading USA Today this morning that the number of alcohol-related arrests from this festival went down this year thankfully from last year.
The other reality means that many of the celebrants here from Gasparilla, we did not want a rented car on the road and this is an option that connects them to restaurants, connects revelers to their hotels and does it in a safe way that’s safe for the entire community.
The Recovery Act did more than just build this project, the Recovery Act by itself provided some $15 million just for transit in the Greater HART service area in Hillsborough County. It wasn’t just about the streetcar it also provided needed funding for a whole new bus fleet. It’s improving paratransit service…it’s getting disabled people around the community so they can live as vibrant members of the community.
Actually if you really want to know what the Recovery Act has done for this region I recommend that you go to Kathy Castor’s website. I happen to have been perusing that and learning a couple of things that even I didn’t know about…the extraordinary investments that the Recovery Act had triggered in this region. I want to congratulate Congresswoman Castor for her courageous vote for the Recovery Act. It really has done a lot to improve the quality of life and create investments that will beat enduring jobs in this area.
I could also say with a smidge of pride that when I first started in government in the late 80’s I worked on the Appropriations Subcommittee that was chaired by Lawton Chiles and I specifically was worked on Education funding at the time and at that the time the Education Commissioner in Florida was Benny Castor so I can tell you that Kathy Castor is a visionary leader from a visionary family and you all should be quite proud to have her representing you in the House of Representatives.
Let me also commend Mayor Iorio. We all know that you’ve been a driving force not just in these investments but similar investments throughout Hillsborough County. We wish you well and understand that you’re term-limited but I have a feeling that we’ll continue to hear from you no matter what you implied in your endeavors…and to David, he’s doing an extraordinary job down here in HART. We worked with David back when he was in LA…he’s now been here for four years and he’s really modernizing and bringing about a transit system that’s looking towards the future.
One of the things I also wanted to emphasize...last week the President in this State of the Union address talked specifically about our challenge to win the future as part of that address chartered three particular types of investments and agenda items that are going to help us win the future. One of them was innovation, one of them was in education and the other one was investing in the nation’s infrastructure. I couldn’t help but notice that we’re standing really right at the nexis of two elements of that goal. Really three elements, all three because right next door as you can see we’ve got another construction site….workers on the job creating a new learning center for the health sciences in the University of South Florida. The medical services field is going to continue to be an economic growth engine not just in this community but for the whole nation and right adjacent to it we’re celebrating an infrastructure investment. An infrastructure investment which like I said is going to serve well the tourism industry…is such a big economic engine to this area and there are many other transit investments that kinda played for this area that will do the same.
Tampa in Hillsborough is unique. It’s unique, in terms of the kinds of visits that I do on transit around the country. Because Tampa in Hillsborough is still growing even during an economic downturn transit ridership in the city and the whole county is still growing.
The challenge is to grow smartly. The challenge is to use the investments that we can partner in at the Federal Transit Administration to do the kinds of services that meet people’s needs and get them to work on time, get them home on time and give them the opportunity and choice to use public transportation.
It’s a choice that was still critically important for when we hit $4 gallon gasoline before and God forbid we hit $4 gallon again it’s going to be an important choice for great many people all around the country.
So thank you again for having us. It really is a great day for the city. It’s a great day for the county…it’s a great day for connecting communities throughout the county and I want to again on behalf of President Obama and Secretary Lahood commend the leadership of all the of the leaders that are brought about on this day.
We’ve got more investments and more progress to celebrate in the future.