TARPON SPRINGS – This time next year, mailboxes will be flooded with ballots and sidewalks littered with campaign posters. But one measure is already being talked about around the county: transportation.
Next November, election day could include a vote on a transit sales tax referendum that would pay to expand the transit system in Pinellas, including more frequent bus routes, longer hours and, eventually, a 24-mile light rail from Clearwater to St. Petersburg. Funding would come from a 1-cent increase of the county sales tax, replacing the current Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority property tax.
At a meeting at the East Lake Community Library in August, Chris Cochran, a senior planner for PSTA, said that buses are the most important feature of the plan.
“We have record ridership on our buses right now,” he said. “This is the time when something needs to be done.”
Each bus costs about $400,000, with continual fees for maintenance, fuel and drivers. But if the sales tax referendum passes next year, nearly one-third of which comes from tourists. It’s a fair trade, said Cochran.
“It’s investing in a system that brings people over here,” he said. “And we’re getting the money from people who would use (the transit system).”
Greenlight Pinellas, marketed by Tampa-based public relations firm Tucker Hall, aims to keep voters informed of the plan and gather input.
“We need this for the future,” said John Miolla, founder of the Council of North County Neighborhoods. “We won’t grow jobwise without it.”
Don Ewing, president of the Council of North County Neighborhoods and one of the hosts of Greenlight Pinellas, said the community support he’s received has been more than reassuring.
“College graduates moving to town to work for big companies want to be urban,” he said.
On Nov. 18, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller will hold a community presentation at the Walton Community Center, 400 South Walton Ave. Miller will explain the plan and answer questions about Greenlight Pinellas and the proposed transportation system. The meeting will begin at 7:15 p.m.