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Tampa International unveils new SkyConnect trains and rental car center

TAMPA BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL:  Tampa International Airport unveiled its new SkyConnect trains that link the airport's main terminal to the economy parking garage and new consolidated rental car center.

Gov. Rick Scott, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the Japanese Consul General Ken Okaniwa and representatives from train builder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony a week before the new service opens up to the public.

The escalators that take passengers up to the SkyConnect station in the main terminal are located on a platform between P.F. Chang's and the Hard Rock Cafe. The 12 trains are part of the $417 million, 1.5-mile automated people mover project, which makes up a portion of the nearly $1 billion first phase of TIA’s master plan. The ride on the SkyConnect system from the main terminal to the economy garage and then on to the 2.6 million-square-foot rental car center takes less than five minutes. Trains arrive at each station roughly every two minutes.

"We did it," shouted Joe Lopano, the airport's CEO. “This project is worthy of our history.”

The building of SkyConnect and the new rental car center was done in recognition of TIA's growing passenger traffic. In 2017, TIA served a record 19.6 million passengers and expects to serve more than 20 million in 2018.

“These passenger numbers are significant and underscore the importance of Tampa International Airport’s master plan projects and the need to build now and build smart,” said Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Chairman Robert Watkins.

“This airport, for us, is part of who we are; is part of our identity,” said Mayor Buckhorn. “Without these improvements, there would be no more Super Bowls, there would be no College Football National Championships, there would be no Bollywood being watched by 800 million people around the world, there would be no hockey All-Stars. It is this airport that helps to drive those decisions.”

Rick Scott said: “We’ve now invested $1.4 billion in our airports and $1.2 billion in our seaports.” He added that he is hoping to see a record number of tourists in Florida of close to 120 million for 2017. Those numbers should be announced soon.

“It is quite an accomplishment to bring SkyConnect in before the required schedule,” said Kiyoshi Okazoe, president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Inc., which is the Houston-based, wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI), which has headquarters in Tokyo. The company will be maintaining the SkyConnect system for several years, he said.

“I’m also hoping that more Japanese tourists will visit Tampa,” Japanese Consul General Ken Okaniwa. The number of Japanese visitors to Florida increased by two times in five years, he said. It’s about a 250,000, he said. “I’m hoping that they’ll discover Tampa for the first time and enjoy all the pleasures of staying in this great city.”

The SkyConnect trains were built at the Mitsubishi factory in Mihara, Japan over a 13-month period before being sent over to Tampa via boat. The trains, each costing approximately $1.9 million, are designed to last 25 years.

The exterior of each new car will be covered with the design of one of the following local birds: the roseate spoonbill, the white ibis, the white pelican, the bald eagle, the black skimmer and the great egret. The interior of the cars will have a video informing riders about the birds.

Crews began construction on the SkyConnect system in November 2014 and work on the guideway structure was finished last year. The trains were lifted onto the SkyConnect guideway in July 2017, kicking off roughly six months of testing.

The opening of SkyConnect and the rental car system represents the near completion of Phase 1 of the airport's $2.6 billion master plan. Phase 2 of the master plan is estimated to cost $543 million and get underway next year. It includes a $194 million curbside expansion, a $110 million relocation of the central energy plant, a $50 million roadway expansion, and a $122 million Gateway Development Area.

By Frances McMorris – Reporter, Tampa Bay Business Journal

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