DUNEDIN – Dunedin City commissioners Feb. 6 embraced a plan for mass transit in Pinellas County that’s expected to improve bus service substantially in the city.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve a resolution endorsing the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s Greenlight Pinellas Plan.
A countywide referendum is slated for Nov. 4 on a proposed of a 1 percent sales tax to pay for public transit uses, including expanded bus service, bus rapid transit, and local passenger rail service. If approved, the county would discontinue the PSTA property tax levy, about three-quarters of a mill, which currently pays for countywide transit services.
Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski, who is on the PSTA board of directors, said “one of the things I’m very excited about is that it is a comprehensive transportation plan. It’s not just about one piece of transportation.”
She said PSTA’s efforts are better than what has been done previously, such as a plan to raise the sales tax by a penny for mass transit improvements in Hillsborough County that was rejected by voters about three years ago.
“We reached out to people. We talked. We found out what communities needed. We didn’t just focus on rail. We wanted a more comprehensive transportation plan. It was really important that we did our financial analysis before we start to point,” Ward Bujalski said.
Brad Miller, PSTA executive director, gave an overview of the plan to commissioners, saying it calls for more than a rail system.
“Certainly, here in Dunedin, there are substantial service increases planned under the Greenlight Pinellas plan,” Miller said.
One of PSTA’s most productive routes runs from downtown Clearwater to the Countryside Mall through downtown Dunedin.
“Its service will be doubled as well,” Miller said.
The plan calls for bus improvements to begin immediately with bus expansions finished and in service by 2021. Rail planning isn’t scheduled to start until 2018, with construction slated to begin in 2021. Rail service would begin in 2024.
Ever since the beginning of the plan, “it was about growing our economy. Providing our citizens with access to jobs,” Miller said.
“The services that we provide support 100,000 jobs today, and that will only increase,” Miller said.
About one-third of the sales taxes are expected to be paid by nonresidents, he said.
“Essentially, for anyone who owns a home or business that has a value of $200,000 or more, this initiative will be either a wash or save you money,” Miller said.
The resolution says the public transportation service hours and frequencies provided today are inadequate to serve the county’s population and work force, resulting in overcrowded buses and limiting future economic growth potential.
Mayor Dave Eggers touted the benefits of having buses stop along their routes more frequently and having later service hours.
“It’s just not an option for people in many cases at this point,” he said. “So it’s going to change dramatically,” he said.
Commissioner Heather Gracy said she sees it fitting with “the younger generation.” She said her daughters come to her office, wait for the trolley to go to the mall “and they really don’t want Mom tagging along.”
Gracy said she is happy to support Greenlight Pinellas
“If there is one less car off the road,” she said, “I tell you in my opinion that makes me very happy.”