Paul Steinman, District 7 secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation, addresses members of the Barrier Island Governmental Council Sept. 25 in Indian Rocks Beach.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – If all parties come to an agreement, the Florida Department of Transportation could be turning over ownership of Gulf Boulevard to Pinellas County.
Pinellas currently has jurisdiction over the beach roadway from Sand Key south to Walsingham Road in Indian Rocks Beach. But from that point south to Pass-A-Grille, it is operated as State Road 699.
Paul Steinman, District 7 secretary for FDOT, told members of the Barrier Island Governmental Council Sept. 25 that the idea is only in the discussion stages.
“We’re just having conversations,” said Steinman. “I don’t want you to walk away today thinking this is a done deal, because it’s not.”
If such a deal comes to fruition, the county would give up one of its major roadways to FDOT in exchange for getting control of Gulf Boulevard. Pinellas would then be in charge of all improvements and maintenance to the roadway.
“We’ve been talking about giving Gulf Boulevard to the county and the department take something in return that would really function more as a state highway, possibly an east-west route or one of the larger north-south routes,” said Steinman. “The other option on that concept would be for all the towns along Gulf Boulevard to take your own individual piece. I’m open to all ideas.”
Steinman said part of the reason for the possible swap is “the disconnect with pedestrians.” Gulf Boulevard has long been a black eye for state officials due to the high number of car crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists.
Although the fatality numbers are dropping, Steinman contends if the roadway were under county control, certain aspects involving its safety could be upgraded more easily.
“The state has specific standards and as much as I would like to change them,” said Steinman, “I can’t because it’s all tied to our funding.”
FDOT is currently in the process of installing Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacons at various crossings along Gulf Boulevard. The cost to install each beacon ranges from $10,000 to $15,000, depending on the location.
On another topic, Steinman said FDOT’s biggest vision right now is trying to tie transportation into helping to move the economy forward.
Among his points was the importance of Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the region working together on transportation needs.
“Basically, we have got to do a better job of working together,” he said. “We’re working with our MPOs to get them to start thinking more regionally.”
That way, he said, the region can carry more clout when applying for federal funding.
“The reality of it is, as money keeps getting tighter, as we compete for money with our neighbors in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville, we’re at a point now where competing for money regionally with places like Atlanta and other areas across the nation,” Steinman said. “Federal funds play a major role in a lot of what we do and we all know the federal government is strapped for cash now. So the more we can speak as one voice, rather than speaking individually, that’s going to be huge for the department and huge to the amount of money we can bring into the state.”
He said FDOT would partner more in the future with other governmental agencies and private interests.
There will also be a different style for completing projects in an effort to cut costs.
“You’re going to see us do a lot more design-build,” Steinman said. “Previously, we would design a project, we would put it out for a bidding and build it. In design-build, it’s all simultaneous. We hire a contractor and a consultant at the same time and pieces are being built as the design goes along.”
New technology is also part of FDOT’s long-term vision.
Steinman said an example of how FDOT could come into play with autonomous vehicles would be plans for the proposed new eastbound Howard Frankland Bridge.
“How will autonomous vehicles play into that? What do we have to do to prepare this type of infrastructure or on Gulf Boulevard?” said Steinman. “It’s a completely different mindset and a completely different way of looking at transportation.”
He said the conference would address, among other topics, the technology from state statute and insurance points of view.