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Regionalism is bar to transportation accessibility, Forward Pinellas director says

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Contrary to popular belief, Pinellas is not a “built out” county but one that has plenty of room for growth, according to one local transportation expert.

“We have a lot of capacity for redevelopment,” Whit Blanton told the audience at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Friday. Blanton is executive director of Forward Pinellas, the new name for the organization formed by the merger of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Pinellas Planning Council.

Pinellas has the potential to add another 250,000 residents over the next decade or so, Blanton said. But to attract residents and companies with high-paying jobs, Pinellas needs to make sure it has an accessible transportation system that seamlessly links destinations and people.

“We build wealth through transportation accessibility,” he said.

But, right now, he said, the county has problems getting people to their destinations. Part of the blame for that, he said, lies with the county’s bus system. Right now, buses generally run only on main arteries. In addition, there can be an hour or more between buses depending on the route.

“That’s our weakness,” Blanton said. “I really firmly believe that is the one neglected aspect of our transportation system.”

Ideally, he said, buses should run on more streets and should be no more than 30 minutes apart.

One barrier to an improved transportation system is regionalism, including a lack of clarity in agency roles, missions and responsibilities. There is one region, he said, but many provider organizations.

“Everyone is at the table, but there are many tables,” Blanton said.

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