PSTA didn’t tell its board BRT project not in next federal budget

PSTA’s Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (CABRT) project has received another setback. The project will not be funded in the federal FY2020 budget. That information reached PSTA in March, yet no mention of it was made in a “Central Ave BRT Funding Plan” presentation given by PSTA’s Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers at last month’s PSTA board meeting.

There was also no mention of this major funding setback at today’s PSTA board meeting.

PSTA continues to publish a project schedule that assumes FY2020 funding with construction starting in 2019, even though it has been clear for over two months that construction will not begin in 2019. In fact, even if the project is makes on to the list of the FTA’s (Federal Transit Administration) recommended projects for FY2021 , construction is unlikely to start  in 2020.

The FTA publishes a “proposed allocation” of the Section 5309 “Small Starts” grant funds that PSTA is seeking. They usually do so between February and May.

Several months before that, construction grant agreements have to be entered in to between the project sponsor, in this case PSTA, and the FTA  in order for a project make it in to the FTA’s “Annual Report on Funding Recommendations” for the coming fiscal year.

The FTA’s  “Annual Report on Funding Recommendations, Fiscal Year 2020” was released in mid-March, and the CABRT did not receive a construction agreement. Thus there is no funding in FY2020 for the CABRT project. The eight Small Starts projects that did receive construction agreement are listed on the page of the report that is numbered 6.

City manager Alex Rey

St. Pete Beach City manager Alex Rey, who has transit funding experience, said in an email that he “agrees with the conclusion that if they do not have a construction grant agreement, they will not get funded this October.”

“The construction agreement is basically a negotiation that justifies the capital expenditures, a technical document but complicated,” Rey said. “The interlocal should not have an effect on that agreement. It could play a role at the next level, when they get actual funding.”

Rey was referring to the interlocal agreement that PSTA lately has been pressuring the City of St. Pete Beach to sign. Rey’s statement strongly implied that there is no hurry to sign it to meet any FTA deadlines.

The number of Small Starts projects that have received construction agreements in the past few fiscal years are as follows:

FY2015 – 1 project
FY2016 – 1 project
FY2017 – 1 project
FY2018 – 3 projects
FY2019 – 1 project, which has since been cancelled by local officials.
FY2020 – 8 projects

Where most PSTA buses go

It is unknown how many projects will receive construction grants agreements in FY2021, or be funded.

Also at today’s board meeting, PSTA CEO Brad Miller criticized the St. Pete Beach city commission, saying that “it has been frankly quite frustrating to not be able to provide accurate information over and over again” to the city commission.

PSTA board chair Janet Long unwittingly contradicted Miller by volunteering that PSTA has had 31 meetings with St. Pete Beach city commissioners and staff over the last three years. Thus PSTA has, in fact, had the opportunity to “provide accurate information over and over again” to  city officials. The difficulty seems to be that the beach town’s commission just isn’t buying what PSTA is selling.

After over three years in the FTA’s pipeline, it increasingly looks like the FTA also isn’t buying what PSTA is selling.