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Central Avenue BRT funding was out, now it’s in

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Last month, it looked like a $1.25 million appropriation for a bus rapid transit pilot program in St. Pete was dead in the water after it was left out of a budget proposed in the Senate. Transit backers in Pinellas County are celebrating thanks to an amendment adopted Wednesday that will get the project started.

While the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority won’t be getting the full $1.25 million, there is a $1 million appropriation in the Senate’s budget that would fund a route alignment and project development and environmental studies on a BRT line from downtown St. Pete to the beach.

While the project is being called the Central Avenue BRT, the lines would actually run on First Avenues North and South where traffic moves in a one-way pattern. That allows more room for a dedicated bus lane. Lights on those roads are also already timed.

In a statement last month, state Sen. Jack Latvala had said the funding for the BRT pilot program was merely victim of a pick and choose mentality among a lot of funding choices. Simply put, not everything can get funded.

But following the initial budget proposal, PSTA board chair Janet Long and CEO Brad Miller traveled to Tallahassee again to lobby lawmakers to include the funding. St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman also traveled to Tallahassee and likely made his own push for the funding.

There was also talk that the project would be redundant. There’s already a Central Avenue Beach Trolley that runs between downtown St. Pete and the beaches. Miller noted that route takes more than an hour from start to finish and is most often used by people traveling short distances along the route and not by people looking to get from one end to the other.

The BRT project would make traveling from the beach to downtown hotspots like the Dali Museum and high-end dining now open in Sundial easier for tourists. Without an express option, visitors staying on the beaches often limit their vacations to that area and vice-versa those staying downtown.

While the proposed budget would fund an initial study for PSTA’s project, the agency would still have to find other funding sources to actually implement it.

That will likely be a challenge for the agency as it struggles to cut costs to prepare for looming insolvency. Miller said he hoped to secure a federal grant for the project but needed to demonstrate need first.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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