CLEARWATER — The Clearwater City council worked its way Monday through a heavy agenda and skipped what had been anticipated as a discussion on waterfront legislation, namely, a marina.
Vice Mayor Bill Jonson brought up the topic of Bus Rapid Transit because an upcoming workshop to try to determine how federal funding should be earmarked was scheduled for February 1.
In summer 2005, the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board voted to support plans for an elevated rail that would run on the Clearwater Causeway from downtown to the beach and rapid bus systems in St. Petersburg and the county’s northern end, but funding was questionable. Planners long-range goals are to construct 38 miles of elevated monorail connecting Clearwater to St. Pete, a three-part system of buses, plus a trolley system.
Jonson, who sits on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) said after the meeting that, “If we could get the full funding for the preliminary design and environmental analysis, I say let’s try to. The struggle that I’ve had is finding out if this is really needed. If we can only get a million dollars and we would have to put up 400 thousand out of the city budget, will it be worth it? Is this the highest priority that we should spend city revenue on?”
Mayor Frank Hibbard explained that $3 million in federal grant money is available, but the city might have to spend $400,000 of its own money on a planning design and environmental analysis first.
Hibbard pointed out that the proposals haven’t been of much public concern. “No citizens are praising it. No one is asking for additional routes.” He asked the council members, “Do we want to take the chance of spending the money the city would have to put up?”
Discussion ensued regarding past PMI meetings and studies that analyzed the question of whether people will give up driving their cars and use public services.
Councilmember Carlen Peterson cited that in older, larger cities people do it all of the time.
It was the opinion of a few council members that a railway would be most favored.
Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton said his travel habits when he goes to New York or Chicago are as such, “I’ll ride rails but I can’t tell you when the last time was that I rode a bus after I got off.”
Councilmember John Doran remarked that in 20 years he has heard many Clearwater residents asking for a shuttle or bus to move people to the beach. He added, “Maybe they don’t want to ride themselves, but they want others to ride it.”
Councilmembers maintained that service from Clearwater’s downtown to the beach has great potential and they are in favor of it. The discussion ended with support for considering additional funding from city revenues at the mayor’s request.
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