A November vote puts Pinellas County at a crossroads in the quest to prepare for its transportation future.
Will Greenlight Pinellas get the green light?
That question won’t be answered until after Nov. 4, when a countywide transportation proposal goes to public vote. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) seeks to change its funding from the current property-tax source to a 1-percent sales tax. County residents will decide. The interim jockeying, though, makes the Kentucky Derby look like a walk in the park.
At stake is only this small prize: the chance for transformational improvements to the county’s transit service — adding choices for residents while also enhancing the county’s image as a worthy place to live, work and play. You know, lifestyle and economic development.
No big deal, right?
Actually, in June a very big deal was struck that ultimately could determine Greenlight Pinellas’ fate. In essence, the $2.2 billion Greenlight plan encompasses a 65 percent expansion of the authority’s bus network, including Bus Rapid Transit lines on most major Pinellas corridors; buses running to and from Tampa and the airport in the evenings and on weekends; longer service hours to accommodate second-shift workers and evening travelers; and the development of future passenger rail from St. Petersburg to Clearwater via the Gateway/Carillon area.
Supporters view the effort as a vital first step towards mass transit across Tampa Bay. The plan would be implemented over a span of 30 years.
All might have been lost, however, were it not for the June 3 agreement between Pinellas County commissioners and the PSTA, giving the county control about how the PSTA could use the sales-tax revenue, estimated to bring in $130 million annually. Also, the agreement largely prevents future transit boards from reintroducing property taxes.
Opponents of Greenlight Pinellas had decried additional taxation and the possible misuse of those revenues.
A sigh of relief could be heard in the office of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, along with counterparts throughout the region, among others. Following the agreement, Indian Rocks Beach Mayor R.B. Johnson, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joined Kriseman in a show of support.
Call it politics and promise.
Greenlight Pinellas, indeed, offers the latter.
Aside from bus-service upgrades, enhancements would form a foundation of quick, easy and convenient connections to a future passenger rail line from St. Petersburg to the Gateway/Carillon area and to Clearwater. Tampa Bay leaders hope this rail system will complement SunRail in Metro Orlando.
Also, consider that while the recession has reduced PSTA’s property tax revenue by more than $40 million since 2008, ridership has increased nearly 20 percent during the same period. To help prevent further service cuts, the agency is using reserve funds to accommodate all-time record ridership. If the Greenlight measure doesn’t pass, those reserves would be depleted by 2017, according to PSTA.
There is a need. There is opportunity. There is a vote. And, to be clear, there is much at stake.
This article was printed as “Seeing the Light.”