Is high-speed rail helping Pinellas light-rail push?
On the heels of President Obama's expected announcement of Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail funding, local and Pinellas County officials signed off Wednesday on being part of a $4 million study on running light rail in the county and across the Howard Frankland Bridge.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board's approval wasn't unexpected, but supporters say the deal was "landmark" because it commits serious money to a big study necessary for federal support of rail in Pinellas. The anticipated Obama news only adds more momentum, because local officials want a light-rail system to connect to high-speed rail.
"I think it definitely gives it priority," said Brian Smith, the county's planning director.
The study area roughly includes downtown St. Petersburg to the Gateway area and then to downtown Clearwater, plus the bridge connection. The study's also important because it will provide answers to the public when transit supporters seek to win a referendum for a sales tax increase to help pay for rail, Smith said. Some supporters suggest that will be in 2012.
County Commissioner Nancy Bostock, a board member, voted against the study, though she said it wasn't necessarily a vote against the idea of rail. Rather, Bostock said it was because of the cost and the fact that PSTA, the county's Metropolitan Planning Agency, the state transportation department and the Tampa Bay Area Transit Authority -- all partners in the study -- ought to have people in place to do the study (and perhaps save money).
David DeCamp, Times staff writer*