The Board of Directors of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority made history yesterday as, with a 14-0 vote, members formally endorsed a transformational, countywide, transit improvement initiative called the Greenlight Pinellas Plan.
The Greenlight Pinellas Plan is the result of years of research, community outreach and regional partnership. Plan elements include a comprehensive, countywide bus improvement plan and a light rail project from Clearwater to St. Petersburg via the Gateway/Carillon area. The bus portion of the Greenlight Plan is the result of an extensive operational analysis performed Transportation Management and Design out of San Diego, CA. that also included widespread public outreach known as the PSTA Community Bus Plan. The light rail element is the result of two-year Alternatives Analysis study that has been nationally recognized as a model for regional partnership. Partner agencies in that project include PSTA, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.
“Some out there keep claiming that Greenlight Pinellas is just about the AA and rail, but it’s not,” says County Commission Chair and PSTA Vice-Chair Ken Welch. “It includes a far reaching, countywide bus improvement plan as its foundation.”
During a presentation to the Board, PSTA Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers emphasized that the bus portion of the Greenlight Plan was developed to address the needs and desires of each segment of the community. “The cornerstone of the Greenlight Plan is and will continue to be community outreach,” says Borchers. “We worked closely with the public and asked them what they want from their bus system and this plan ensures consistent and easy access to that system for all members of the community.” Borchers emphasizes that access includes pedestrian and bike pathways and accommodations, as well as park ‘n’ ride lots to make it easier for those not living near transit lines to use the system as well.
If voters approve funding for the plan, leaders say the improvements will be phased in over a ten year period with all elements up and running by 2024. During that period, PSTA officials say they will continue
partnering with business, community and governmental leaders to ensure the transparency and accountability of the project. Those efforts will include the interactive website GreenlightPinellas.com where the community can get regular updates on the plan as well as giving input and asking questions. Citizen oversight committees will also be created to help monitor and guide the project and they will report directly to the PSTA Board of Directors.
The PSTA Board, unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed both the Greenlight Pinellas Plan as well as draft ballot language designed to fund the plan via a referendum proposed for November 4, 2014. That proposal includes eliminating the current property tax that funds PSTA and replacing it with a 1 cent sales tax. “I’d like to congratulate everyone on this,” said Belleair Bluffs Commissioner Joseph Barkley. “After some of the confusion in the last election, this is very clear and the voters will easily understand what we’re trying to do and it’s very positive step forward.”
“I applaud those who helped make this ballot language so simple and clear,” added County Commissioner Janet Long. The final ballot language will be approved by the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners following a public hearing on the subject on December 10, 2013. County Commissioner and PSTA Board Member Norm Roche did not attend the meeting.
Details, background data and avenues for community input can all be found at the plan’s website: www.greenlightpinellas.com.