PSTA approves contract for services to aid BRT project

PSTA will be looking at all aspects of its popular trolley services ahead of a decision to buy 20 new vehicles to replace the 16 that are the oldest in the agencies fleet.

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously Sept. 25 to approve a five-year contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. for transit-oriented development services.

The contract amount of not-to-exceed $3 million has an initial scope of services for the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit strategic plan of $1.2 million.

Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers said the contract would be funded by a Federal Transit Authority grant.

The Central Avenue BRT project is a 10-mile rapid transit connection between downtown St. Petersburg’s innovation district and the cities of South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach. PSTA plans to pay for the project using a FTA Capital Investment Grant from the Small Starts program with other funding from the Florida Department of Transportation, St. Petersburg and PSTA.

PSTA says the project is currently in the FTA project development phase and is anticipated to be open for service in 2021.

Borchers said PSTA applied for a FTA TOD Pilot Program grant in 2018 to address and expand on recommendations on land use policies and plans received from FTA during the Small Starts application process.

The grant will allow PSTA to focus on economic development, small/local business assistance, multimodal connectivity, non-motorized access, mixed-use development, infrastructure needs and private sector participation within the 10-mile BRT project. The goal is to “spur economic development and support the performance of the BRT investment,” according to a staff report.

The grant does not require PSTA to provide matching funds; however, Forward Pinellas and the city of St. Petersburg, along with PSTA staff, have agreed to provide “significant” staff hours as in-kind contributions.

Borchers said the work, which will initially benefit St. Petersburg, South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach’s planning efforts for the BRT project, should provide a model as work continues to set up priority transit corridors throughout the county.

Four proposals were received for the contract and an evaluation committee comprised of staff from PSTA, Forward Pinellas and the cities of St. Petersburg and South Pasadena ranked the proposals and selected Kimley-Horn. Borchers said St. Pete Beach was invited to participate but was unable to attend the evaluation meeting.

Millage rate and budget approved

The PSTA board also held the second and final public hearing on the fiscal year 2019-2020 millage rate and budget. Director Dave Eggers voted no on both the millage rate and budget.

The final approved millage rate was 0.7500, which is the same as the current year, and 6.75% over the rolled-back rate.

The final approved budget of $132.5 million includes $85 million for operating expenses and $47 million for capital and transfers.

Chief Financial Officer Debbie Leous said the budget includes about $1.7 million from reserves.

Trolley purchases

PSTA will be looking at the way trolley services are provided ahead of a potential purchase of 20 new vehicles.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller said each year the agency purchases vehicles, usually buses, to replace the oldest in the fleet. Currently, the oldest vehicles are 16 trolleys from 2007.

Trolley service is one of the most popular provided by PSTA, especially among tourists. Service is provided by the Central Avenue Trolley, Sunset Beach Trolley, Clearwater South Beach Trolley, North Coastal Trolley, St. Petersburg Looper and Clearwater North Beach Trolley.

PSTA is the operator for all of them, except it partners with the Looper Group for the St. Petersburg Looper and contracts with Jolley Trolley for the Clearwater routes and the North Coastal Trolley.

Miller has scheduled a discussion about trolley services, the costs, including contracts with third parties, such as the Jolley Trolley, at the Oct. 18 Finance Committee meeting. The item will be back before the full board on Oct. 25 along with a request to purchase 20 new trolleys.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.