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St. Pete City Council forges ahead with funding bus rapid transit, despite St. Pete Beach opposition

Megan Holmes

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St. Petersburg City Hall, courtesy of St. Pete Flickr.

The St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to allocate $4 million to the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. The decision comes after a volatile week for the project, which was officially opposed by the St. Pete Beach City Commission Thursday morning. The Commission passed a resolution to oppose the project in its current form, despite receiving a letter from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman urging support for the project.

The funds from the city of St. Petersburg and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) would make up a quarter ($11.6 million) of the total funding for the $43 million project. The rest of the funding is expected to come from the Federal Transit Administration ($21.8 million) and the Florida Department of Transportation ($10.5 million). The project would come at no cost to the City of St. Pete Beach.

The unanimous decision signals St. Petersburg’s confidence and enthusiasm for the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade. There are also signs that it could continue to move as scheduled, even without the support of St. Pete Beach. Since Gulf Boulevard, which runs the length of St. Pete Beach, is a Florida State Road, it is under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Transportation. As such, the project could continue to move as scheduled. The line is currently expected to be completed and opened to riders by late 2020/early 2021.

“Our residents support this innovative project and are eager to enjoy the benefits it will bring to the city and Pinellas County,” said City Council member Darden Rice. “The leadership shown by this council demonstrates the City of St. Petersburg’s progressive nature. We know that infrastructure investments like this one will continue to drive our prosperity and growth in a positive and sustainable way. That’s why I wholeheartedly move to support this project.”

The Central Avenue BRT project would connect downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach, utilizing 1st Avenue North and First Avenue South, as well as Pasadena Avenue and Gulf Boulevard. The project has stirred controversy in St. Pete Beach, where residents and some businesses are concerned that the buses could clog already crowded roadways.

Supporters of the project cite the crowded roadways as the precise need for the service, which is expected to increase ridership of the corridor by 3,300 riders per day and take more cars off of the road. Supporters also cite census data which shows that 80 percent of workers on St. Pete Beach do not live within city limits, and that 40 percent of those workers commute to St. Pete Beach from St. Petersburg.

The current public transit option, the Central Avenue Trolley service, takes 55 minutes from end to end. The Central Avenue BRT project would cut 20 minutes, allowing riders to get from downtown St. Pete to St. Pete Beach in just 35 minutes.

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