Saturday, June 23, 2018
Transportation

Campaign for transit sales tax gears up

Pinellas County residents have a choice, and it's a stark one, said Brad Miller, chief executive of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Voters can approve a transit sales tax referendum in 2014 that would pay to dramatically expand the county's transit system. Or, they can vote no, a decision that would mean slashing bus service by 28 percent and buying time to revisit a transit overhaul in the future.

"These are the cold, hard, mathematical facts," Miller said recently to a room of civic leaders. They were meeting to discuss Pinellas Greenlight, the public awareness campaign for the referendum.

County commissioners seem poised to approve putting the referendum on the ballot in 2014. The initiative seeks to increase the county sales tax by a penny to fund mass transit and eliminate the PSTA property tax.

The campaign's challenge will be to get the initiative into the minds of residents. With $395,000 in public funds paying for Tampa-based public relations firm Tucker Hall, the Pinellas Greenlight campaign has reached a reported 20,000 people so far through promotional materials, workshops and meetings.

Tucker Hall is not allowed to tell people how to vote, but it is pushing the Greenlight brand with social media and swag, such as brand-emblazoned tote bags.

PSTA officials said they aren't using the threat of potential bus cuts in messaging. Instead, PSTA officials said Greenlight will be focused on economic growth, fiscal sustainability and environmental benefits.

Local leaders brainstormed messaging ideas recently, listing community members they want to reach, from bike co-op members to high schoolers without driver's licenses.

The transit tax would provide funding for buses to run much more frequently, officials said. Longer hours would extend service into the night and weekends. More shelters would be built. And eventually, 24 miles of light rail would be built to connect Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The light rail system would take 10 to 15 years to begin running, and it would cost about $1.7 billion over 30 years, officials said.

Don Ewing, president of the Council of North County Neighborhoods, said this is Pinellas County's chance to become a transit leader in the bay area. Hillsborough voters rejected a proposal in 2010 to raise the sales tax by a penny to pay for a mix of commuter light rail, expanded bus service and roads.

"We're doing a better job, hopefully, of getting you involved to answer that question of why an enhanced transportation system would be good," Ewing said.

Barbara Haselden of the South Pinellas 912 Patriots tea party group said the transit overhaul is unnecessary.

"Doing nothing is an option," she said. "We're built out. Perhaps we need to get more efficient. … We're talking about something our children are going to have to pay for in 10 years or 20 years if it hits the wall."

Some other attendees had concerns that development spurred by improved transit could lead to displacement.

Ridership in the county has increased 20 percent, despite $40 million in cuts since 2007.

"This is about developing a 21st century transportation plan for the county, or not," Miller said. "And that is how we've presented it."

Claire McNeill can be reached at [email protected] Twitter: @clairemcneill.

Comments
SunPass charges will soon be showing up again on customer accounts — without late fees

SunPass charges will soon be showing up again on customer accounts — without late fees

It has been more than two weeks since SunPass customers have been able to access their accounts after the Florida toll service took down its website for system maintenance.While SunPass continues to accumulate toll charges since the maintenance perio...
Published: 06/22/18
Petition language reveals details of Hillsborough sales tax transportation initiative

Petition language reveals details of Hillsborough sales tax transportation initiative

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections on Friday approved petition language that will let a new group of transportation advocates begin gathering the 48,000 signatures they need to get a sales tax initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.All ...
Published: 06/15/18
Carlton: A trolley instead of a boondoggle? About time, Tampa

Carlton: A trolley instead of a boondoggle? About time, Tampa

You could rightly call the vintage streetcars that trundle between downtown Tampa and Ybor City big, beautiful boondoggles.Charming?Yes. An integral part of this city’s unique history?Absolutely.And in their current incarnation, overpriced, inefficie...
Published: 06/15/18
Federal judge halts work on Suncoast 2 toll road

Federal judge halts work on Suncoast 2 toll road

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody, Jr. granted a temporary restraining order on Thursday to halt the work that has already begun on the extension of the Suncoast Parkway — aka the controversial "Suncoast 2."The toll road now ends at U.S. 98 at the n...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Hillsborough group pushing new referendum on raising sales tax for transportation

Hillsborough group pushing new referendum on raising sales tax for transportation

TAMPA — In 2010, Hillsborough voters soundly rejected a 1 cent sales tax hike backed by their elected leaders to raise billions of dollars for roads, bus expansion and light rail. In 2016, county commissioners helped develop a new transportation plan...
Published: 06/14/18
SunPass apologizes to customers who couldn’t access accounts after website maintenance

SunPass apologizes to customers who couldn’t access accounts after website maintenance

Users were unable to access their SunPass accounts on Monday after the release of a system redesign that took the system’s web site, app and hotlines down for a week.From June 5-11, the SunPass website, hotlines and mobile app were taken down for sys...
Published: 06/14/18
Elon Musk to build 125 mph underground transit line serving Chicago O’Hare

Elon Musk to build 125 mph underground transit line serving Chicago O’Hare

Elon Musk has taken on a task perhaps more challenging than launching rockets into space: getting passengers from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the Loop in 12 minutes, roughly three to four times as fast as the current taxi journey.The plan for the "Ch...
Published: 06/14/18
This trooper pulled over a driver - then realized the man had delivered him nearly 27 years ago

This trooper pulled over a driver - then realized the man had delivered him nearly 27 years ago

New Jersey state trooper Michael Patterson was on patrol recently when he pulled over a white BMW for a routine traffic stop.He asked the driver for his license and registration, and the two started making small talk. It turned out that the driver, M...
Published: 06/13/18
Fares eliminated on downtown Tampa trolley following FDOT grant

Fares eliminated on downtown Tampa trolley following FDOT grant

TAMPA — Fares on the TECO Line Streetcar in downtown Tampa will be eliminated for three years following a grant funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.The grant provide $2.67 million to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, allowing it to t...
Published: 06/12/18
Tampa road work forces office workers to wait up to an hour to get out of their parking garage every day

Tampa road work forces office workers to wait up to an hour to get out of their parking garage every day

TAMPA — At 42 floors tall, the largest office building on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers some spectacular views.But good luck getting out of it.Since the start of a $5.7 million street resurfacing project late last year on Kennedy Boulevard and Jackson ...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18