ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board of Directors agreed to award a $662,500 contract for public art for transit stations along the proposed Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project in St. Petersburg during an April 22 virtual meeting.

Director Richard Bennett, vice mayor of North Redington Beach, voted no.

Abhishek Dayal, director of project management, told directors that PSTA had entered into an interlocal agreement with the city of St. Petersburg for the Art in Transit project on March 14, 2019. The city will pay for 100% of the design, fabrication and installation of art panels on station shelters. PSTA will manage the project.

The contract was awarded to C Glass Studios LLC, 5660 80th St. N., Unit A204 in St. Petersburg. According to its website, the studio is owned by artist Cheryl Syminink.

The panels C Glass Studios will design and fabricate will be installed as part of the BRT construction at stations in St. Petersburg’s city limits.

The Central Avenue BRT project is a 10-mile rapid transit connection that would run between downtown St. Petersburg’s innovation district and the cities of South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach.

Plans call for it to be paid for using funds from the Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant Small Starts Program, Florida Department of Transportation, city of St. Petersburg and PSTA.

According to a project summary posted on FTA’s website on March 15, 2019, the proposed funding split for the $41 million project is $20 million from the Small Starts grant, $10.5 million from FDOT, $5.5 million from St. Petersburg and $5 million from PSTA.

PSTA’s most recent estimate of cost is $44 million with 21.8 million from FTA, 10.5 million from FDOT with the remaining $11.6 million split between PSTA and the city of St. Petersburg.

Pinellas County and PSTA started looking into plans for bus rapid transit projects in 2009, and began more serious studies in 2016. According to FTA, the Central Avenue BRT project was entered into the Small Starts Project Development in May 2016.

The project was included as part of the county’s long range transportation plan in March 2018. At that time, PSTA had anticipated receiving a grant agreement in October 2019, and had projected BRT could begin service by June 2020.

However, since the project’s last evaluation by FTA in November 2017, PSTA has revised the date service could begin to December 2020 to “reflect a more realistic timeframe for construction completion,” according to the March 15, 2019 summary.

PSTA is still waiting on receipt of a Small Starts grant agreement. PSTA did receive $1.2 million in federal funding to kick-start the development of the BRT project in December 2018.

Tom Rask, a resident of unincorporated Pinellas, told the board he objects to spending any more money on the project, which has not yet received additional federal funding.

“This is a ridiculous item to be voting on at this time,” he said. “Wait until another meeting.”

Director Gina Driscoll, St. Petersburg councilmember, supported the contract.

“St. Petersburg is the city of the arts,” she said, adding that the project was part of the city’s commitment to BRT and the “uniqueness of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.”

She said it is important to approve the contract now because it provides money to employ a local artist. “There’s never been a better time to improve our economy,” she said, adding that the contract keeps BRT, the arts and the economy moving forward.

Staff requested that the board waive the requirement for competitively procuring the artist’s services as it was not required by statute; however, PSTA’s procurement policy does require that services exceeding $100,000 be competitively bid.

In other business, the directors:

• approved a three-year contract in an amount not to exceed $400,000 with two one-year options with Cherry Bekaert LLP to provide auditing services. PSTA received six proposals to provide the services and the Finance Committee ranked Cherry Bekaert as the top applicant. State law requires the board to approve the finance committee’s No. 1 ranked firm unless they document in writing why another firm was selected.

• approved a three-year contract for an amount not to exceed $420,000 with two one-year options with Van Scoyoc Associates Inc. for federal government affairs services. The firm will represent PSTA at the U.S. Congress, United States Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies.

• As part of the consent agenda, approval was given to extend the contract with RSA Consulting Group LLC for state government affairs services for the third year. In 2016, the board approved the initial contract with an option for three additional one-year periods. The fee per month was $7,500 for the first option, $8,000 a month for the second year and $8,500 a month for the last year.

• Also as part of the consent agenda, approval was given to pay another $100,000 to Lyft to continue providing Mobility on Demand services for paratransit riders until a request for proposal, expected for completion in April, can be completed. The due date for the RFP has been extended to May.

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