Too much at stake for Pinellas County’s $43.9 million bus rapid transit project to fail

And more key numbers in the news this week.
A Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority bus makes a stop on its bus rapid transit line, one of the highest rated in the country. There are plans for a bus rapid transit line in Pinellas County. Courtesy of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit
A Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority bus makes a stop on its bus rapid transit line, one of the highest rated in the country. There are plans for a bus rapid transit line in Pinellas County. Courtesy of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit
Published June 14
Updated June 14

A few numbers caught my eye this week:

$43.9 million

That’s the updated cost of the proposed bus rapid transit line from downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches.

The idea is to whisk riders along a 10-mile route, following First Avenues N and S, Pasadena Avenue and Gulf Boulevard. The buses would get their own lane for about 6 ½ miles.

Not everyone’s onboard. St. Pete Beach commissioners balked at running the route along Gulf Boulevard and worried about the size of the buses. In St. Petersburg, questions remain about the merit of removing a car lane and parking spots to provide a faster route for the buses.

More than nearly $44 million is at stake. This would be the Tampa Bay area’s first bus rapid transit line. If we want more of them, this one needs to be done right. Even the perception of failure will provide fodder for transit skeptics to oppose similar proposals for surface streets in Tampa and the 41-mile route along Interstate 275 from Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg.

MORE BUSINESS: Florida’s 50 highest paid CEOs.

Bus rapid transit needs to live up to its middle name — speed is essential. Too many stops, planned or otherwise, defeat the purpose. The route also needs to access areas that help build ridership. City and county leaders need to think carefully about St. Pete Beach commissioners’ desire to end the line at 75th Avenue, instead of running it south on Gulf Boulevard. Such a move could doom the project if it severely limits ridership.

There’s much to watch on this project. And a lot on the line.

• • •

27 percent

Weekly mortgage applications across the country rose by that much last week, as loan rates hit a nearly two-year low.

Refinancings led the way, jumping an eye-popping 47 percent, compared to a week earlier. They nearly doubled from the same week last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Refinancing generally puts more money into homeowners’ pockets, which can boost spending. Here’s the catch: The rates for all loan types fell thanks to trade tensions with China and Mexico, weak job hiring in May and indications that Federal Reserve Board officials are more bearish on the economy, said Joel Kan, an associate vice president for the association. In other words, homeowners were taking advantage of a shaky economy.

The average interest rate on a 30-year mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Authority fell to 4.09 percent, down from close to 5 percent in November. The lower rate would save homeowners more than $100 a month on a $200,000 mortgage.

The cautious economic outlook has kept would-be home buyers from embracing the low rates as much as homeowners. After all, buying a home is a much bigger financial step than refinancing an existing mortgage. It doesn’t help that the supply of homes affordable for first-time buyers remains tight.

Applications to purchase a home were stagnant for weeks, despite decreasing rates. They finally rose 10 percent last week.

• • •

3

Just three of the state’s nine major job sectors have improved at a faster rate than the overall market since the start of 2010.

The state has added an impressive 1.8 million non-government jobs. That translates to a 30 percent increase. The three leaders: construction up 55 percent, professional and business services up 41 percent, and leisure and hospitality, 36 percent. Profession and business services is a much larger category than construction, so even with a lower rate, it added the most jobs — 405,000.

Financial activities, education and health care, trade and utilities, and manufacturing all jumped by at least 20 percent, but they didn’t keep up with the state as a whole. Mining and logging, the smallest of the nine sectors, climbed a relatively modest 11 percent.

The laggard: Information, which lost about 1,300 jobs.

Contact Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com. Follow @GrahamBrink.

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