The long-planned land swap deal in Clearwater that would allow the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to build its first high-tech bus terminal has hit a road bump, but the two partners plan to overcome the newly discovered issue.
PSTA is seeking to purchase the vacant city-owned lot at the corner of Court Street and Myrtle Avenue to build a $44.5 million transit center and in exchange, it would provide the City of Clearwater its existing aging bus terminal site at Park Street, which the city plans to redevelop. However, both sites have soil contamination.
Per a completed environmental investigation by engineering firm Stantec, the soil at the Court Street and Myrtle Avenue site has low-level contamination and may require soil mitigation measures.
“We were told this could limit the ability for PSTA to construct a residential property, which we are not doing. We don’t have plans to do anything beyond a transit center. We are paving over the site,” PSTA CEO Brad Miller said.
Decades ago, the site was home to a citrus-packing facility aligning with a railway – the oranges were shipped via train.
“The issue is similar contamination was found at the Park Street site. The contamination would only restrict residential use. We both agreed to conduct further additional deeper soil sampling to better understand the contamination,” Miller said.
PSTA and the City of Clearwater initially entered an agreement late last year for the land swap deal and were expected to execute the transaction this April.
Next week, the Clearwater city council work session members will review an extension on the closing date, setting it for Oct. 31, to provide additional time for the city and PSTA to complete respective investigations and take any necessary actions related to environmental concerns.
PSTA is expected to review the recommended extension date during its board meeting in June.
Once the parties grasp a full understanding of the contamination status, Miller said they will discuss the potential funding costs (if there would be any) and who would be responsible for picking up the tab.
Miller said PSTA is still on track to finish the design later this year and commence construction early in 2024. Construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months. The new terminal would open by late 2025 or early 2026.
PSTA envisions the new Clearwater center would accommodate up to 16 bus bays, which is twice the capacity at the existing Park Street Terminal. The transit hub would also be outfitted with solar panels and electric bus-charging stations – meeting PSTA’s pledge to have a fully electric fleet by 2050. The green energy-powered facility would also have enhanced connections for ride-hailing taxis such as Uber and Lyft, along with autonomous vehicles.
In the meantime, the transit authority would lease back the Park Street Terminal property from the city until the new facility is completed.
PSTA is funding the project through a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of the Rebuilding America Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program. They have also received an $8 million funding commitment from the county and other sources.