Docs appear to show why federal gov’t isn’t funding Central Ave BRT project

Formal project assessments made by the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) and obtained by the Guardian appear to show  why PSTA’s Central Avenue BRT (CABRT) project is still isn’t eligible to be funded by the FTA. The documents show also that that PSTA has failed to implement key FTA recommendations three years in a row. PSTA is the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

We showed earlier that the FTA told PSTA in this January 15th letter their CABRT isn’t eligible at this time for federal funding. Recent documents shed light on why that is.

Every year, the FTA performs a formal assessment of the land use and economic development effects of projects in the so called Project Development (PD) phase of its Capital Investment Grant program. The FTA does so for the upcoming federal fiscal budget year.

The FTA e-mailed PSTA its FY21 assessment of the CABRT project on February 12th. The e-mail also referenced the FTA’s “Annual Report on Funding Recommendations” for FY21, a report which did not recommend funding of PSTA’s CABRT project.

Brad Miller (from his Twitter feed)

That e-mail came just one week after immediate past PSTA chair Janet Long and PSTA CEO Brad Miller expressed confidence that the CABRT would be funded.

The FTA’s land use and economic development (LU-ED) assessments for the last three years show the project obtaining a “Medium ” rating for land use and a “Medium-Low” rating for economic development. This is equivalent to grades of C and D, respectively.

Most worrisome for PSTA is that there may not be anything it can do to get those grades up.

“Information for the cities of South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach was lacking,” the FTA’s assessment noted three years in a row in its 3-line “Quality of Submission” notes.

In the “recommendations” section of all three assessments, the FTA noted that “South Pasadena’s zoning map was inaccessible” and urged PSTA to “provide a a zoning map or information on zoning districts in the corridor.” Here are the  FY19, FY20 and FY21 FTA assessments.

Those are “recommendations” (a.k.a. “requirements”) that can be met. So is the one to “tie the vacant or underutilized land to zoning designations or current proposals,” although that exercise may not produce a list that PSTA or project supporters want the FTA to see.

The “recommendations” that will be more difficult or even impossible to meet are the following ten,  which have been repeated by the FTA to PSTA in writing three years in a row:

1. Provide updates on population density, employment, and existing affordable housing.
2. More documentation of transit-supportive plans and policies from South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach.
3. More documentation of transit-supportive ordinances in St. Pete Beach.
4. More information on how South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach have engaged stakeholders [on land use].
5. More information on coordination between St. Pete Beach, St. Petersburg, and South Pasadena [on land use].
6. Show development projects throughout the corridor, not just in Downtown St. Petersburg.
7. Provide a more detailed assessment of [affordable housing] supply and needs in the corridor.
8. Provide information on South Pasadena’s plans to address affordable housing.
9. Identify how the needs of very- and extremely-low income households are being addressed in St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena.
10. Beyond HUD and state funds, identify local funds or programs that support affordable housing.

The FTA noted that St. Petersburg’s plans, policies and ordinances “appear to be significantly more well-developed and transit-supportive than those in South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach.” That should come as no surprise to the FTA, which already knows that the cities of St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena have unanimously passed resolutions opposing the CABRT project.

The FTA’s “alternative recommendation” for items #2 and #3 above is for PSTA to “encourage those jurisdictions [South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach] to adopt more transit-supportive plans, policies and ordinances.” Given the formal and unwavering opposition of these jurisdictions, it’s almost impossible for PSTA to achieve what the FTA asks of it.

“Note: Failure to respond to recommendations may cause ratings to be decreased in future evaluations,” the FTA says in all three assessments. This year, for the first time, that note was in highlighted in red. That change could mean that mean the FTA is signaling that time is running out for PSTA to get the CABRT project funded.

For the convenience of our readers, here is a copy of the FTA’s latest (FY21) LU-ED assessment in which we have highlighted key points. On page 2, reader will see that of 2,631 parking spots in the corridor, 231 of those will be removed in order to build bus stations. In additions, one lane in each direction on 1st Avenues North and South in St. Pete would be converted to allow buses and turning vehicles.

Ed Carlson

“It’s insane to lose 11-12 miles of driving lanes on St. Pete’s major east-west thoroughfare to a dying dinosaur like PSTA,” said Ed Carlson.

Carlson, a retired dentist, leads a St. Petersburg grassroots group called Citizens Against Lane Loss (CALL). CALL is opposed to the CABRT project.

“Losing 231 parking places is equally insane and also counterproductive, Carlson continued. “Over 900 people per day move to Florida and most of those people are arriving in vehicles they intend to drive.”

Carlson said that the community has “huge needs” in the areas of traffic flow and parking.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

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