To help make difficult decisions regarding transportation in the 2023 budget, Pinellas County administrators recently sought a sense of direction on how commissioners would like to prioritize funding for assets with an estimated structural value of $5 billion.
During Thursday’s work session, County Administrator Barry Burton told the board of commissioners that work is already beginning on next year’s budget. He said the commission’s feedback following his transportation update would influence the plan of action, and he would then present that plan later this spring or in early summer as part of the budget process. The county currently does not have enough funding for the backload of transportation work, scheduled projects and anticipated improvements.
Tom Washburn, section manager for the public works department, led the presentation to county commissioners. He said maintaining sidewalks to ensure safety and ADA compliance, along with ensuring the quality of roads through pavement management, are atop the list of priorities. The county utilizes 1,080 miles of sidewalks and 2,641 lane miles of pavement.
While those areas are considered priorities, Washburn made it clear that county workers have their hands full.
“It’s interesting to note we operate and maintain almost 450 traffic signals,” he said. “And it’s always interesting to me that we maintain 43,000 traffic signs in the field.”
Washburn explained the current adopted transportation plan recently increased from $624 million to $710 million to reflect expected costs of planned projects. He said transportation project costs are increasing with the ongoing rise in construction costs. The county recently received almost $27 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to assist with sidewalk projects and safe routes to school.
Washburn noted the county currently has $116 million in transportation projects without available funding. He said the county is working with Forward Pinellas to potentially secure funding for some of those projects.
Work on East Lake Road was one of the projects not included in the budget. Commissioner Karen Seel said she was unaware of the details concerning the potential $35 million project.
“This is always the issue with the 10-year capital plan,” said Burton. “Here, you have a major investment corridor that we know something needs to be done – but you don’t know whether you’re going to expand intersections or add lanes.
“We know we have an amount of money coming that we’re going to need to prioritize within the capital plan, but we can’t put it in because we haven’t gone through the preliminary engineering.”
Washburn told county commissioners that area roads deteriorate at a rate of 3% annually and need repaving every 11 to 14 years, depending on the type of pavement. He said after 15 years, the quality of the pavement drops precipitously, and the cost for repairs increases significantly.
From a cost-effectiveness standpoint, Burton said, once a road deteriorates to a certain point, it needs a complete overhaul. He said maintaining the roads is critical to not only keeping the public happy but also for keeping costs down, as it is six times more expensive to reconstruct a road versus repaving.
“If you get ahead of that, to where you never have to reconstruct roads, it’s actually much more cost-effective,” said Burton. “It’s just like with the sidewalks – it’s the backlog to get us there. Once we get there, we are probably close to having the money to maintain it.”
The county will continue exploring options for funding projects, and Burton will present an updated plan of action to commissioners in the coming months.