Congestion-creating Pinellas bus project not funded in federal budget

President Trump’s  “budget blueprint” for fiscal year 2018 calls for halting funding to transit capital projects (so-called “New Starts”), with the exception of projects that already have grant agreements in place. It also appears that no new grant agreement will be signed in 2017.

Randal O’Toole

Cato Institute transportation policy analyst Randal O’Toole reported on these budget implications in his “Antiplanner” blog today. This sudden “unfunded and unguarded moment” (to coin a phrase) means that the proposed Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in St. Pete. would not receive federal funds.

The BRT project, championed by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA ), would have to rely entirely on local and state funds. It isn’t clear that elected officials would or could proceed with the project under such a funding scenario.

If built, the once every 20 minute BRT would run from downtown St. Pete to certain beach communities that have not been determined yet. It would also create dedicated bus lanes on both 1st Avenues North and South.

The project summary published by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)  shows that PSTA itself says there is current traffic congestion on the route. Specifically, PSTA claimed that current “bus travel times are slowed by automobile congestion and the absence of transit signal priority or any other preferential treatments” for transit.

PSTA also told the FTA that the BRT “project is also expected to enhance the corridor’s economic development,” a claim they also made about the defeated Greenlight Pinellas light rail project in 2014. Such claims are routinely made by transit advocates around the country.

By creating dedicated bus lanes for the BRT service, travel lanes would be taken away from other vehicular traffic, thereby increasing traffic congestion for all other vehicles. That will most likely not sit well with voters. The extremely light use of the dedicated lane (one bus every 20 minutes) may not sit well with voters.

PSTA is currently very focused on finding funding for this BRT line. However, eight other BRT lines are listed as higher priorities in the Pinellas County Comprehensive Plan. None of these other eight lines have been implemented, nor are there any plans to do so.

The Central Avenue route that PSTA is arguing for is only mentioned in passing on page 4 of the relevant chapter in the Comp Plan, after the other 8 lines. So why was the 9th ranked route selected?

The Guardian no longer asks PSTA questions because they have said in writing that they won’t answer any questions from us. However, the likely reason “#9” has floated to top because the St. Pete elected officials want it. If the line is built, they will then be able to give subsidies and tax abatements to businesses along the lines, who in turn donate to their political campaigns. Everyone is a winner! Except the taxpayers.

As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish our articles.

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