ST. PETE BEACH — After being in office just a few weeks, St. Pete Beach’s new City Manager Alex Rey’s first big assignment will be to come up with an interlocal agreement with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials over the Rapid Transit issue.
During their regular meeting April 9, city commissioners decided not to act on a resolution that took exception with PSTA’s plans to extend its Rapid Transit program into the beach community, especially the transit authority’s suggestion that the city would help fund a portion of its cost.
County Commissioner Janet Long, who also serves as the PSTA chairwoman, told commissioners PSTA will not name St. Pete Beach as a potential funding source.
“It’s absolutely not correct that PSTA is deliberately using your city as a tool. Getting into the federal funding pipeline is a very complicated lengthy process. It’s always been our desire to include St. Pete Beach as a partner,” she said.
She told commissioners last fall PSTA filed revised documents, noting that St. Pete Beach will not be a funding partner on this project.
“PSTA board is listening to you and not anticipating asking or receiving financial dollars,” she added.
Long also addressed another issue raised by city commissioners, who noted 60-foot wide buses planned as part of the Rapid Transit Program will not fit on Gulf Boulevard and especially in Pass-A-Grille.
“PSTA is working with its contractors to see if alternative smaller vehicles are available and looking forward to providing more vintage trolleys that fit in with the character of St. Pete Beach,” she told commissioners.
Public comment at the meeting ranged from those who did not trust the PSTA, or think its plan is ill conceived, to those who told commissioners the Rapid Transit Program will bring St. Pete Beach into a regional transportation network that will ferry visitors to the city from St. Petersburg and even eventually a Tampa connection.
Mayor Al Johnson told Long “our concern wasn’t the concept; it was the size of the buses. The biggest problem is 60-feet long articulated buses don’t fit on this island.”
The mayor added he is encouraged with a meeting that the new city manager recently had with PSTA officials. Rey met with PSTA Executive Director Brian Miller to discuss principals of an agreement.
Among items discussed was there will be no additional financial money from the city, and PSTA is looking for smaller buses to use on Gulf Boulevard.
Rey added they talked about using golf carts that can be serviced in the city for transportation in Pass-A-Grille, which would eliminate buses from driving through residential neighborhoods.
“We have to find a way to connect to the two points and the layover at the Don CeSar, but that will be one of the issues that still has to be worked through,” he advised.
“I think we are headed in the right direction,” he said.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said she does not want PSTA to take up prime space at the Don CeSar and questioned how buses will turn around in that narrow area.
“I’m opposed to giving more real estate to a mini bus stop at the end of the route … I do not want that to happen,” she said.
Mayor Johnson said he understands that Pletcher doesn’t want a bus stop in the middle of gateway to Pass-A-Grille; “we have to have positive relations and we have to work together.”
Pletcher reminded commissioners “two years ago we had a discussion asking about short buses that never came to fruition; the ball was dropped.”
When it comes to bus service in Pass-A-Grille, south of the Don CeSar, Pletcher added “we don’t need a small trolley. It’s a complete disconnect here” between PSTA and ridership needs.
“We need respect on both sides and I’d like to see that moving forward … I hope and pray with every ounce of my being that we can have mutual respect going forward,” Pletcher told fellow commissioners.
Commissioner Terry Finnerty agreed with Pletcher that “we really have been disrespected”
Miller told commissioners St. Pete Beach’s concern over use of 60-foot articulated buses caused PSTA to change its plans and use 4-foot wide vehicles on the entire route from St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach.
Commissioner Doug Izzo noted “the theme of the night is collaboration … They heard us tonight for sure. They are on record as willing to work with us.”
Rey told commissioners he has hopes of negotiating with PSTA and providing what might be an interlocal agreement in 30 days, perhaps at the May 14 meeting.