Pinellas County Talks Move for an Improved Transit System
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12/07/09 Concetta DeLuco
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Pinellas County is on the move toward an improved transit system. A Pinellas County Transit and Land Use Workshop was held today in Pinellas Park to discuss the county’s plans for future transportation improvement.

The workshop today was headed by several Tampa Bay transit groups including TBARTA and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority or PSTA. Tim Garling is the executive director for PSTA. He said Pinellas County is currently in the beginning stages of mapping out a comprehensive transportation plan. It is the first step before seeking funding for any transportation improvements.

Throughout the workshop, keynote speaker G.B.Arrington stressed the importance of “transit oriented development.” It involves marrying future “land use” plans with any transit improvements. And as Pinellas County begins to work on its alternative analysis studies, Arrington said, it should use this kind of development plan to create “communities of value.”

There are several local transit improvements planned for Pinellas County, Garling said. Taking “land use” and transit improvements into consideration, the plan would ultimately connect St. Petersburg to Clearwater and Pinellas County to Hillsborough.

The Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February promises to match local funding for transit improvements with federal money. Garling said obtaining local funds is necessary to compete with other states and regions.

Last month, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to place a one-cent sales tax referendum on the 2010 ballot, which, if passed will provide local transit funding. PSTA’s Garling said Pinellas County will not be competing with Hillsborough and instead hopes to work with Hillsborough on improving transit for the entire Tampa Bay region.

The push for improved local transit systems is linked with Florida’s desire for a federally funded high speed rail system. It would connect Orlando with Tampa and if funded, is expected to be completed by 2014.

Along with California, Florida is a top contender for part of the $8 billion of stimulus money allotted for the bullet train. Earlier this year, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation Ray LaHood recommended Florida first fund light rail systems before competing for federal funds. Arrington said a key factor in obtaining federal funding for light rails is linking “land use” with transit plans.

Florida legislators are in a special session this week to strategize on ways to fund the local rail systems. A new law that is being debated would create a Florida Rail Enterprise. As a division of the Florida Department of Transportation, it would take command of the high speed rail project. The new division would oversee the development and funding of statewide commuter light rail lines such as the Sunrail in Orlando, Tri-rail in Miami and could potentially fund a light rail in Tampa.

The alternative analysis plan for Pinellas County is expected to be finished within the next year.

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