St. Petersburg still on board bus rapid transit to the beaches

Pinellas transit officials hope the project will get a federal grant in 2020. However, St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena still oppose it.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is hoping to secure a $21.8 million federal grant to help pay for a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches. St. Petersburg City  Council approved an interlocal agreement Thursday supporting the project. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is hoping to secure a $21.8 million federal grant to help pay for a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches. St. Petersburg City Council approved an interlocal agreement Thursday supporting the project. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
Published October 17
Updated October 17

ST. PETERSBURG — City council members on Thursday voiced yet again their support for a new bus route that would use special transit- and turn-only lanes to connect downtown to the beaches.

The Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project has faced backlash from the cities of St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena, whose residents expressed concerns that the project will cause congestion along Pasadena Avenue S and Gulf Boulevard.

But St. Petersburg has been stalwart in supporting for the proposed $43.9-million transit project, which could be the first in Tampa Bay to receive a federal capital investment grant.

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Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority director of project management Abhishek Dayal said the agency hopes to receive a $21.8 million federal grant by early next year. The Federal Transit Administration has still not allocated all of its grant money from the 2019 budget.

Transit authority CEO Brad Miller said construction is expected to start as soon as all funding is secured by Spring 2020, and the buses could start running in 2021.

Discussions to launch the bus rapid transit project — a term referring to bus routes that have their own lane among other features — started gaining momentum in 2015.

The proposed 10.3-mile route would start in downtown St. Petersburg, where it would run in a dedicated lane along First Avenues N and S. Those lanes, which also would run along part of Pasadena Avenue S, would be marked for use by buses only and vehicles making turns into side streets, homes or businesses.

The buses would then join mixed traffic along the rest of Pasadena Avenue S before traveling down Gulf Boulevard.

The agency proposed 17 stops and buses that would run every 15 minutes.

The latest interlocal agreement between the city and the county’s transit agency confirms that the bus rapid transit line will use 40-foot buses and that the route will end on Gulf Boulevard at 46th Avenue.

The Pinellas transit authority had proposed using 60-foot buses and running them all the way to the Don Cesar hotel, but quashed both those ideas after strong opposition from the beach communities.

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