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State won’t fund PSTA’s $1 million BRT study

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A $1 million ask by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will not be funded in the state’s 2015 budget.

The Legislature agreed on an $80 billion budget late Monday night, but it did not include proposed funding for a Bus Rapid Transit study for a Central Avenue route connecting downtown St. Pete and the beaches.

“PSTA representatives heard very positive feedback and 100 percent support from our Pinellas delegation, and our agency will keep working to find funding for BRT in the near future,” wrote PSTA spokesperson Ashlie Handy.

The money would have funded a feasibility study for BRT lines running East to West along First Avenues North and South.

A current Central Avenue Beach Trolley line already runs a similar route. However, transit officials note the line takes too long to ride from start to finish. It connects downtown St. Pete to the Gulf Coast from Pass-a-grille north to Treasure Island.

Officials say that line is better used for short trips in between to two points but riders would be more likely to go from one point to the other on a quicker BRT route.

The PSTA board is set to discuss the funding miss during a committee meeting Friday. There are several ideas likely to come up on alternative ways to fund a study. Those include things like asking the county or the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to help fund the study.

Hillsborough County has a similar line called Metro Rapid that runs along a sole route north to south on Nebraska Avenue. While it’s considered “light” BRT, the route was funded in part through the county.

The funding left out of the budget calls into question larger issues facing PSTA. Rumors have been long since surfacing about PSTA’s CEO Brad Miller’s viability as a leader.

Miller and his agency suffered a giant setback in November when they lost the Greenlight Pinellas referendum that would have increased sales tax in the county from 7 percent to 8 percent and funded sweeping improvements to the county’s transit system, including BRT and even an eventual light rail route.

During that campaign Miller fell victim to all sorts of bad publicity. The most notable issue came when a Channel 10 investigation by Mike Deeson uncovered Miller had inappropriately used grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security.

Miller later ordered the grant money to be returned to DHS.

The investigation shook the agency and Miller’s reputation. Now some are questioning whether his lack of favor with lawmakers may have been the deal breaker.

PSTA officials have not yet responded, but a turnaround plan has been in place since the weeks following the DHS situation. It includes goals like better communication among leaders and staff.

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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