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Water transport seen as solution to traffic congestion on Pinellas beaches

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who has ever driven along Gulf Boulevard that traffic congestion is seen as a major problem on Pinellas’ beaches.

Traffic congestion, especially on the weekends and during tourist season, has been a long-standing issue for the beach communities and has had officials often scratching their heads in a search for a solution. But recently, the search has drifted away from the roadways to the water, specifically the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway.

The idea of waterborne transportation got a significant boost with the Clearwater ferry taxi service that kicked off a little more than a year ago. The idea is to let people park in Clearwater, then take a ferry to Clearwater beach. No traffic. No parking problems. It’s been successful.

That success has prompted other beach communities are considering the idea. Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno said his city is actively looking for businesses that want to go into a public-private partnership to provide waterborne transport.

The interest in waterborne transportation isn’t limited to Madeira Beach. Members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, a coalition of 11 south Pinellas beach municipalities, passed a resolution endorsing the concept. Their vote followed on the heels of a similar resolution adopted by the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, which is comprised of members from 11 beach communities from Clearwater Beach to Pass-a-Grille.

It appears the idea is also popular with residents. Rodney Chatman, a planning section manager with Forward Pinellas, told members of the Big C that the agency had held listening sessions and surveyed residents about beach issues. The listening session and study were the first steps in a planning project that will focus on beach access and beach development over the next two years. (Forward Pinellas is the new name for the two agencies formerly known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Pinellas Planning Council.)

“I think we can all agree,” Chatman said, “traffic congestion is an issue.”

Those surveyed, he added, are interested in waterborne and other alternative methods of transportation. But, he cautioned, transportation has to be frequent, reliable and competitive with driving.

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