Brad Miller, the CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, appeared before the Safety Harbor City Commission last Monday night asking for the City’s support for the organization’s Greenlight Pinellas plan.
The plan, which will be on this November’s ballot, calls for a one-percent sales tax to help fund new transportation-related infrastructure and services in Pinellas County, including increased bus routes and new rapid transit lines as well as a future light rail system between Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
While he showed a Power Point presentation outlining some of the details of the plan, Miller explained how Greenlight Pinellas would benefit the county as a whole and and the community of Safety Harbor specifically.
“How will this initiative help Safety Harbor’s quality of life?” Miller asked. “First is the value to millennials. They are looking for places where they will live, more and more, based on the transportation options that are provided there.”
“Obviously the tourists will greatly benefit from this,” he added. “The Jolley Trolley services that run only minimally on the weekends today will run seven days a week and much longer service into the night to Safety Harbor.”
Miller went on to explain that the Greenlight Pinellas plan is primarily about accessing jobs, citing figures that say Pinellas County is ranked 334th, or last, out of counties in America as far as growth of average weekly wages for workers; additionally, the plan would eliminate the PSTA property tax Pinellas County residents currently pay.
“This vote in November is not about the buses and the trains,” Miller stated. “It is about how we can improve our community for Safety Harbor, but more importantly for our kids…and the future of our community.”
After hearing the presentation, the City Commissioners weighed in with their thoughts and questions about the plan, which would raise $100 – $125 million per year for PSTA.
While most agreed that increasing public transit is a vital component to a having a healthy community, others expressed doubts about the overall effectiveness of the plan.
“I’ve got an issue with this because I was on the PSTA right around the time there was a discussion about how to package this and put it on the ballot,” Mayor Andy Steingold said. “I was having a difficult time with the concept.”
“Greenlight just isn’t the buses, it’s going to be a commuter rail between Clearwater and St. Pete, and one-third of the money is going to that,” he added. “Quite frankly, I’d like to see more of the money going to the light rail because I think that’s the wave of the future, and that’s how you taker cars off the road versus the bus system.”
Vice Mayor Cliff Merz, who spent 16 months on the PSTA board, also gave his perspective on the project.
“It’s amazing the cost of this project,” Merz admitted. “But you look at what’s going on on (US Highway) 19 right now, it’s over a billion dollars just to put those humps in there.”
“This light rail/mass transit has been discussed for forty-something years here. This is an opportunity to get it close to an approach.”
After a discussion on whether or not the City should officially draw up a resolution to back the Greenlight Pinellas plan, the commissioners decided to have representatives from both sides of the issue appear before them in the near future so a they can make a fair decision on the matter.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to convince voters one way or the other…but I think it’s constructive to hear both sides,” Mayor Steingold said.
“I am a supporter mass transit, but I do agree that the commission shouldn’t take a position until it’s at least heard the other side,” Commissioner Andy Zodrow concurred.