In their efforts to negotiate a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) solution with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), St. Pete Beach commissioners finally got fed up and took action at a special meeting on the morning of Thursday, June 13 to approve a resolution that spells out their position.
“When it comes to the whole project, I tell people all the time we’re a balancing act,” said Mayor Al Johnson. “We have a large resort and tourist operation as well as a really neat little beach town. That’s our challenge.”
This transportation issue is where our businesses, resorts and residents “are on the same page,” he said.
Numerous details in the PSTA’s interlocal design for BRT between St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach have been ongoing and contentious topics at commission meetings for years. The main issues are a PSTA grant application submitted to the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) that continues to misrepresent the city’s support for BRT, bus sizes up to 60 feet, dedicated BRT lanes on Gulf Boulevard and the location of a bus turn around area in a location near the Don Cesar, which commissioners have described as prime property.
“It’s the beginning of laying out what factually your position is,” said City Attorney Andrew W.J. Dickman. “It may help the discussion.”
On June 12, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman sent a two-page letter to Johnson in response to the commission planning a special meeting that said, “A terminus just onto the island (ending at 75th Street) is not acceptable to St. Petersburg, Pinellas County or the region because it would significantly lower ridership and put the entire project in jeopardy. I encourage you to accept the compromises PSTA has provided and not take any action.”
At the special meeting, commissioners were determined to have their concerns heard and stated they are in favor of negotiating at the same table with other elected officials in St. Petersburg and South Pasadena, along with PSTA staff, so everyone can stop operating in what Johnson calls silos. Commissioners also want detailed ridership data from the PSTA.
“I like the idea of an exchange of ideas as opposed to arguments,” said Johnson.
The resolution states that St. Pete Beach is opposed to the current BRT plan as currently designed south of 75th Avenue on Gulf Boulevard in addition to the PSTA’s federal grant application. The resolution’s wording specifically “requests that the FTA take no further action on PSTA’s application.”
Resolution 2019-05, option B was passed unanimously.
A copy of the resolution was sent to the PSTA, the Florida Department of Transportation, the FTA, and the cities of South Pasadena and St. Petersburg.
Budget Discussions Continue
At a Friday, April 12 workshop that lasted almost six hours, commissioners discussed their 2020 budget priorities that will run from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020.
One goal is a sanitary sewer expansion project that would cost an estimated $12 million. The city is researching several funding options including a 20-year loan from the state.
Another project would involve putting electrical utilities underground along Gulf Boulevard for an estimated cost of $12.9 million. The city is considering coordinating with the county for funding.
Commissioners also discussed making their current website ADA compliant at a cost ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 in addition to having a new website constructed at an estimated cost of up to $30,000.
In a presentation by city staff, commissioners learned that the months-long red tide in 2018 has adversely affected the city’s revenues from parking meter fees. Normally, the city’s annual revenue from this source is $3 million. At the current time, staff reported that parking revenues are underperforming by $160,000 going into the summer months. To remedy this shortfall, commissioners may consider raising parking meter fees during peak times like holiday weekends.
Sewer Repairs Approved
At their April 23 meeting, commissioners approved funding for sanitary sewer lift station repairs at two locations. The total cost for station 13 and 14 rehabilitation is $694,810.98. On August 7, 2018, commissioners approved a bid from TLC Diversified, LLC to conduct repairs during fiscal years 2018-2021 for an amount not to exceed $5,722,777.
At their May 14 meeting, commissioners approved a grease removal program for its three pump stations and 14 lift stations for a total cost of $100,000. The contractor is FCS, Inc. of Clearwater, which is also under contract with Pinellas County for grit removal services at the county’s pump and lift stations. The city manager reported that this is expected to be an annual expense.
Aquatic Center Slide Repairs
At their May 28 regular meeting, commissioners approved $26,800 in funding for slide repairs at the Aquatic Center.
Perfect Settings, the company that supplied the original slides when the pool opened in 2007, will install the Polyethylene replacement parts.
Other bids were for completely new equipment. The bid for fiberglass slides came in at $125,000. Replacing the slides would have also meant a change in the footprint and design of the area.
4th of July Fireworks Approved
The city made requests to five companies to submit bids for their 4th of July Rock the Beach fireworks display and only one was received from Creative Pyrotechnics, the same business St. Pete Beach contracted with last year.
For 2019, the cost of the display will be $25,000. The four-part show will consist of 3,010 display shells for 20 to 25 minute period. Attendees will view an opener, the body of the show, a pre-finale then a grand finale.
Commissioners also approved an additional $15,000 to fund a towing barge provided by Mobro Marine. For the show, the barge will be located in the Gulf of Mexico directly out from the public beach access parking lot at 4700 Gulf Boulevard.
Igniting fireworks from a centrally located barge will “work out well,” said Johnson.
To date, Recreation Director Jennifer McMahon and other city staff have worked with the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber to secure about $12,000 from St. Pete Beach hotels to offset the cost to lease the barge. City staff and the chamber will continue to pursue more donors.
The free event will begin at 2 p.m. on Thursday, July 4 with live music at Upham Beach by the Brian Caudill Band followed at 6:30 p.m. by headliner Stormbringer until the fireworks begin at sunset, which will be approximately 9 p.m. Upham Beach is located at 6850 Beach Plaza, just north of where the barge will be located. For more information, visit best-of-st-pete-beach.com/upham-beach.html.
With limited public parking on the island at both Upham and Pass-a-Grille beaches, the city is encouraging visitors to ride share or use public transportation.