In the latest of an ongoing transit saga, the St. Pete Beach City Commission voted unanimously during Thursday morning’s City Commission Special Meeting to pass a resolution opposing the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project as currently proposed by PSTA.
The Central Avenue BRT project would connect downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach with faster service and fewer stops, cutting the current Central Avenue Trolley’s 55-minute one-way service to just 35 minutes.
Last Tuesday evening, the Commission made clear its opposition to the Central Avenue BRT’s route south of 75th Avenue. The route was originally proposed to terminate at the Don CeSar at the entrance to Pass-a-Grille. In an effort to compromise, PSTA amended the route to terminate at the St. Pete Beach public access known as County Park, just north of 46th avenue. The Commission rejected this compromise and proposed that the route terminate at 75th Avenue, a solution that was not favorable to PSTA or the City of St. Petersburg.
The resolution states that St. Pete Beach opposes the Central Avenue BRT project as it is currently proposed, and requests that the Federal Transit Authority (FTA), which is the primary funder of the Central Avenue BRT project, take no further action on PSTA’s application. It directs the City Manager to send the resolution to all potential funders and cities involved in the BRT project, including PSTA, FDOT, the City of St. Petersburg and the City of South Pasadena. The resolution does not prohibit the city from entering into further negotiations with PSTA regarding the BRT.
“I think we need to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘This is where we are and where we are right now is not acceptable to us, and let’s keep talking,'” said St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson.
The vote came despite a letter from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, urging the St. Pete Beach City Commission to agree to PSTA’s compromises and sign an interlocal agreement. Johnson and the other commissioners rebuked Kriseman’s efforts to advocate for the project.
“In receiving a letter from Mayor Kriseman … Their situation is totally different than ours,” said Johnson. “They’ve got so many other routes to take. We’ve got one and it’s the only route we’ve got.”
“There’s a lot of other entities that are telling us to support BRT,” said Commissioner Doug Izzo. “But when you look at our residents and businesses and people we represent, they’re all in alignment, which is rare when everyone agrees. We have to do what we’re elected to do, which is to support the wishes of the people.”
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher took particular issue with Kriseman’s strongly worded letter. She quoted a portion of Kriseman’s letter, in which he stated that if St. Pete Beach did not sign the interlocal agreement, discussions of 60-foot buses and the original route terminating at the Don CeSar would return. Pletcher described Kriseman’s words as “mayor mafia moves.”
“I always have a thing,” said Pletcher. “Don’t mess with my kids, my clients or my community … in this situation they’re messing with our community and it’s not right, when they say that BRT is a bigger picture than St. Pete Beach. Protecting our tourism is a bigger picture than this BRT project in front of us.”
“We are treated like a step child in this county,” said Vice Mayor Terri Finnerty. “This kind of letter represents arrogance posing as virtue … so, Mr. Kriseman, take care of your own city, and we will take care of our city.”