What transportation projects matter most to a community?
That’s a tough question, and the answer varies based on who’s being asked. Yet these are decisions that are essential to the future of our county and region – and that we have to answer every year. When Forward Pinellas began looking at projects to put on a priority list for the county and region for the upcoming year, we considered various roadway, transit, and bicycle/pedestrian projects. We asked questions such as, “Does this promote increased mobility and accessibility?” and, “Does it have community support?”
The priority list that resulted is different than anything the planning authority has ever put together before. It is the first “multimodal” list: the first list to prioritize forms of transportation other than cars. It’s also a list that reflects the priorities of many stakeholders in our community, not just one group.
A major function of this specific priority list is to seek funding for specific projects, which would start in 2022. In most cases, projects need to be on a priority list to even be considered for funding. Attentive Pinellas County residents might notice a previously touted project disappear from the list – for instance, the I-275 express toll lanes from the Howard Frankland Bridge into St. Petersburg (and vice versa) that would connect with the Gateway Expressway. That doesn’t mean the project isn’t happening. On the contrary, if a project is fully funded (like the express lanes project), that project moves off the unfunded official priority list to make way for others that need the money and attention. However, these projects are still included on a prioritized candidate project list to ensure they are completed as quickly as possible.
Jim Kennedy, chairman of the Forward Pinellas board and a member of the St. Petersburg City Council, said he sees this multimodal list as evidence of the way elected officials on the board have unified to move forward as a region, not just as individual areas.
“As Forward Pinellas, we’re working on making sure that we cover the needs of the entire county and listen to the citizens, knowing that there is no one magic form of transportation that is going to solve our problems,” Kennedy said. “We need to be creative in developing diversified solutions for transportation.”
Here’s the final list that resulted from the extensive prioritization process, which included input from various advisory committees and organizations.
2016/17 Unfunded Multimodal Transportation Priority Projects
- Systems and Operations Planning Funds. This item looks to obtain off-the-top funding for Forward Pinellas to conduct corridor planning and identify future priorities.
- Pinellas County Transportation Systems Management and Operations Priority Projects Countywide. This item looks to add $1-5 million each year for smaller scale projects that come up each year to decrease congestion and increase safety but that don’t involve major roadway rebuilding.
- SR694 / Gandy Boulevard. This item looks to add an interchange at Brighton Bay Blvd. and frontage roads on Gandy Boulevard from east of Fourth Street to west of Gandy Bridge. With the Selmon Expressway being extended all the way to the Gandy Bridge, and with new Gandy Boulevard interchanges at Fourth and Ninth Streets, this item would remove the traffic light at Derby Lane and seeks to avoid a bottleneck that may happen otherwise.
- US 19 / SR 55 (including Tampa and Nebraska interchanges). This item looks to help improve safety at a key east-west corridor crossing by adding interchanges and frontage roads at Tampa Road and Nebraska Avenue.
- Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit. This item looks to link downtown St. Petersburg with the beaches by using a lane of First Ave North and First Avenue South to serve as a bus lane.
- Phase II – Park/Starkey Sidewalks. This item looks to advance the sidewalk installation portion of the planned Starkey Road widening between Bryan Dairy Road and East Bay Drive so that the sidewalks get built first, increasing safety for pedestrians.
- I-275 Lane Continuity Improvements. This item looks to improve the lane continuity on I-275 from Gandy Blvd. south past 54th S. The improvement would create two continuous lanes of I-275 in both directions throughout the corridor, improving safety and lessening driver confusion.
- Harn Boulevard Overpass. This item looks to improve pedestrian access and safety at Harn Boulevard by adding a pedestrian overpass to the road to connect both sides of US 19.
- Duke Energy Trail, Phase 2 North Gap. This item looks to close a gap in the north section of the Duke Energy Trail between Chestnut Park and Enterprise Road.
- Duke Energy Trail, Phase 3 South Gap. This item looks to close a gap in the south section of the Duke Energy Trail between Haines Bayshore and Ulmerton Road.
- Clearwater Beach to TIA Express Transit. This item looks to create an express bus route between Clearwater Beach and Tampa International Airport.
- SR 686/Roosevelt Boulevard. This item looks to improve access for State Road 686 at Roosevelt Boulevard, providing a direct connection on and off the road to the Gateway Expressway.
- SR 694/Gandy Boulevard. This item looks to improve the Gandy Boulevard intersections between US 19 and I-275, possibly adding frontage roads, without adding ramps.
- Duke Energy Trail, Phase 4 & 5, South Gap. This item looks to close gaps in the south section of the Duke Energy Trail between Ulmerton Road and the existing terminus of the North Bay Trail in St. Petersburg.
- 126th Avenue North. This item looks to extend 126th Avenue North all the way through between US 19 and 34th Street, improving regional access for businesses and freight traffic in the Pinellas Park area. This is the first county road to be included on our major project priority list.
- US 19 / SR 55 (including Alderman interchange). This item looks to help improve safety at a key east-west corridor crossing by adding interchanges and frontage roads at Alderman Road.
- US 19 / SR 55 (including Klosterman interchange). This item looks to carry add an interchange and frontage roads at Klosterman Road. While the project is currently in the design phase, Forward Pinellas is currently evaluating how the effects of between building interchanges in the north part of the county and future land development patterns along this key corridor while also identifying the best design to provide safe access for businesses, residents along the road, and through traffic.
- Transit Operational Enhancements and Associated Capital. This item looks to improve bus routes and services, with increased frequency on existing routes and the expansion of service hours on weekdays and weekends.
- Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail Overpass. This item looks to replace the bike and pedestrian crosswalk on the Courtney Campbell Causeway at Bayshore Drive with an overpass to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety and avoid traffic delays.
- Waterborne Transportation Priority Projects. This item looks to support the development of a water taxi or ferry transportation network between the Gulf Coast communities and across Tampa Bay.
The multimodal priority list was approved at the September 13 Forward Pinellas Board meeting, with the elected officials who make up the board saying they felt the list was a vital one.
St. Petersburg City Council Member and Forward Pinellas board member Darden Rice said she believed the priority list offered a vision of Pinellas County that will make residents proud.
“It’s exciting to approve the first transportation priorities list that moves our thinking as a county beyond a car-centric viewpoint,” she said. “We saw waterborne transportation options, bus routes, sidewalks to benefit pedestrians, and trail projects all identified as important. Combined with the traditional roadway projects that we continue to prioritize, all of those options lead Pinellas toward a future with expanded transportation opportunities.”
Pinellas County Commissioner and fellow board member Dave Eggers said during the board meeting that while he or other board members might number the list differently, the list as a whole is reflective of the projects the county needs to be focusing on.
“As far as the priority goes, I think everything on this list is a priority,” he said. “I don’t think that orders are so critically important – that they’re on this list is critically important.”
By adopting this priority list and transmitting it to the state, the Florida DOT will use it as a basis for funding projects using various sources of revenue. FDOT will inform Forward Pinellas of its funding decisions in the spring of 2017, and all projects on the list now become more eligible for funding through various programs.
Because of the length of this article, I doubt many citizens of Pinellas County will read it in its entirety. They don’t have time or inclination. What we need is a system that operates close to our communities and, ideally, IN our communities that is easy to navigate, does not change every six months or so, has SHELTERS that shield us from the elements, takes into consideration the needs of the elderly and disabled and LISTENS to those that actually ride the bus daily. What we don’t need is decision makers who do not ride the bus, have probably never used public transportation in their lives and would be completely helpless without their cars. What we don’t need are local politicians promoting another incentive for tourists and tourism in the form of a “rapid” transit from downtown St. Pete to the beaches. They may have been successful in eliminating a 63-year-long transit center in Williams Park but they can not change the speed limit on First Avenue North nor can they move the distance of the beaches any closer. It will continue to be a one hour one way trip, the tourists won’t ride it more than one time after they discover this. Once again, a waste of funds that could have been spent on bus shelters at the bus stops they relocated blocks away from each other after dismantling the transit center at Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg. Once again, people making decisions about issues they possess no actual experience in.
There are very few board members that have actually relied on mass transit alone to navigate work, shopping, doctor appointments. If they have any experience it is while on vacation in Charlotte, Portland, Washington, DC. The transit opposing echo is NOT in my neighborhood and we are not willing to pay for it. The ‘not in my neighborhood crowd’ claim that any transit stops in there neighborhood will make property values decline. The ‘we are not paying for it’ crowd are just not willing to subsidize any government endeavor especially one that will always be subsidized. Since these decisions are being made only by our elected officials, we need to keep in mind their transit and transportation goals before voting for them.
The “we are not paying” crowd would be less vocal if tranportation projects actually reflected public demand and if those agencies using public dollars for funding (PSTA for example) can show they are operating at peak efficiency. The “we need more money” approach will not work. Show us you are doing an excellent job first before demanding more funding. The cross bay ferry will be a failure. Madeira Beach is rrunning a water taxi that was a no bid process and the Clearwater Ferry has been subsidized with public dollars.