St. Pete Beach City Commissioners have taken on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) again because of service issues including bus size.
“The bus is way too big,” said Mayor Alan Johnson.
For scale, the proposed 60-foot articulated buses are about twice as big as the current large models, including trolleys that are used on city routes.
On Tuesday, March 26, commissioners considered Resolution 2019-05 during their regular meeting that made it clear they are opposing major components of the PSTA’s proposal and design for a bus rapid transit (BRT) project that would run through the city south of 75th Avenue.
Earlier on the same day, just hours before the 4 p.m. start of the commission meeting, the city received an email from the PSTA about the resolution.
The PSTA is “recognizing your concern about the misrepresentation of financial support regarding grant documents,” said Andrew W.J. Dickman, the city attorney.
In the email, the authority states, “we will immediately adjust all grant documents and other assumptions to show no direct funding from the city,” he said.
Dickman said, “They are allegedly going to immediately deal with that.”
The PSTA also stated in their email that they are “taking issue with some of the statements in the resolution” and are “asking for an opportunity to come here and present to you their project and address some of the issues” that are in the resolution, said Dickman.
About the PSTA, Dickman said, “I’d like to see some proof that they are adjusting the documents.”
In part, the city’s resolution states that a portion of the BRT “will specifically impact traffic and may provide little to no benefit to the city and its community.” Additional wording in the measure states the BRT plan would: increase traffic congestion and negatively affect the flow of traffic within the city due to the narrowing and removal of lanes; impact emergency service response times; and pose a threat to tourism that is of economic value for numerous industries.
“The size of the bus [is] a major concern,” said Commissioner Ward Friszolowski. “I’m still open to the BRT issue if we don’t have to pay extra” and if they scale the buses to the beach community. “The dollar amount absolutely needs to be clarified in writing.”
Funding is also a key concern with Commissioner Doug Izzo. “Every time, it’s a different number,” said Izzo. “If I just know what they’re asking, that would be great.”
“What they’ve shared with me is a length of the BRT route must go along Gulf Boulevard,” said Vice Mayor Melinda Pletcher. “They desperately need that ridership” to qualify for federal grants.
“That doesn’t give me as much heartburn as the bus itself – the long-articulated bus,” said Friszolowski. “We haven’t been provided with any data as to why they would need a bus that big. It causes safety hazards.”
The PSTA has a history of not tying transit solutions to ridership, said Pletcher. Plus, their desire to have an additional transfer hub by the Don Cesar where real estate is at a premium price is not a good fit.
“For years, we have been asking them for a smaller 35-foot trolley to go down through Pass-a-Grille” and not have any larger busses on the narrow streets, said Johnson.
“They continue to disrespect what we are saying,” said Pletcher. “We’ve been working on this for like five years. They’ve been promising and promising us that they would give us short busses or come up with an alternative for transportation south of the Don. It’s yet to come to fruition. I have zero confidence [in the PSTA]. I’m done.”
After discussion, commissioners agreed to table the resolution pending the PSTA’s presentation at the April 9 meeting.
“They created this adversarial relationship,” said Pletcher. “We’re just responding to it.”
Friszolowski also said he wanted the resolution to be more finite and not so broad. “Whether we like it or not, they are a partner with us in transportation. We have made it clear that we are going to pass a resolution. It’s just a matter of what it says.
“We have certainly got their attention.”
Following the April 9 presentation, the commissioners all firmly agreed that moving forward, the PSTA needs to have mutually respectful conversations with the city and work with them in earnest to include supplying supporting data for proposed changes.
To this end, the commissioners also agreed to postpone a vote on the resolution for 30 days to give their new city manager time to meet with PSTA staff in an effort to reach a viable solution that would satisfy the funding topic and numerous transportation safety issues regarding the narrow streets in Pass-a-Grille and the traffic flow along the multi-lane sections of Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach.
New City Manager Selected
Alex Rey was sworn into office on April 9 as the new city manager and was immediately immersed into a nearly four-hour commission meeting that included a contentious mood between all commissioners and a representative from the PSTA.
This time, the city is looking to Rey, who has extensive transportation expertise, to help them make their case.
Commissioner Terri Finnerty said she is in favor of letting Rey have conversations with the PSTA in an effort to get the city’s transportation concerns totally heard and their issues resolved.
Rey was chosen after a selection process that dominated nearly five months of commission meetings to find a replacement for Wayne Saunders, the previous city manager, who announced his plans to retire at the October 23, 2018 meeting.
Saunders was originally set to retire on March 28, 2019 but on March 12, the date was extended to April 12 so he could work remotely during the interim as an advisor to Rey, who officially started as city manager on April 1.
According to city documentation, during the transition period Saunders would be available to brief and advise Rey on current issues, assist in providing background for the regularly scheduled April 9 commission meeting, and help him prepare for the annual budget priority-setting workshop that is tentatively scheduled for April 12.
Merry Pier Annual Lease Fee Waved
At their Tuesday, February 12 regular meeting, commissioners approved the waiver of the annual 2019 lease increase for Merry Pier. The original agreement with Merry Pier Partners, LLC, dated February 1, 2011, stipulates that the annual lease increase will be 2.5 percent or the rise in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher.
Currently, the annual lease is $40,357.44. For 2019, a 2.5 percent increase would total $1,008.94.
Due to the structural condition of the pier and the impact to businesses caused by ongoing roadway construction, the partners asked for a waiver.
The last time the annual lease was increased was on February 1, 2017. During the summer, deteriorating pilings were removed resulting in one overnight slip being unusable.
On September 10, 2017, high winds and water from Hurricane Irma added to existing pier damage especially to the older finger piers. In December, some repairs were addressed by the city.
On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael caused additional damage to finger piers.
City Purchases Home Near Library, Plans for Demolition
On December 14, 2018, the city purchased an 823-square-foot, single-family home built in 1949 that sits on a 50- by 100-foot lot located at 305 73rd Avenue, which is in the same block as the St. Pete Beach Public Library. Parking lots separate the buildings.
At their February 26, 2019 meeting, commissioners approved the demolition of the residential structures because they “are in a state of accelerated decay.” The Cribb Philbeck Weaver Group was awarded the $24,150 contract.
Salute to Military Event Set for April 28
At their March 26 meeting, commissioners approved banners to hang over 75th Avenue at Boca Ciega Drive for the 9th annual Salute to Military event that will be held on April 28 in Colonel Michael J. Horan Park located at 7701 Boca Ciega Drive, St. Pete Beach.
According to a press release from the promoter, the fundraiser will feature military vehicles and exhibits, a kid’s fishing tournament from noon to 2 p.m. and live music from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no admission fee for the pet and family friendly event, and complimentary parking is available nearby.