Light rail, expanded bus service included in Pinellas plan - FOX 13 News

Light rail, expanded bus service included in Pinellas plan

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

If Pinellas voters approve a new penny mass transit sales tax in November 2014, PSTA buses will start running nights and weekends in early 2016.

They will run more frequently as new vehicles are delivered in 2017 and 2018. Express routes and "bus rapid transit" will arrive in 2019 through 2021, and by 2024, a light rail system will be rolling.

Oh, and there will be enough money to pay for it all. That final but critical detail has been confirmed by outside consultants.

"The big news is our fiscal assumptions still make sense," county commission chairman Ken Welch told FOX 13 News after a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Pinellas Transportation. "A very solid fiscal plan was confirmed today by a third party."

The timetable for building a new mass transit system is also taking shape, including an oversized, slick booklet showing how the plan was developed and what some future infrastructure might look like, at specific locations.

"We have everything in place for the bus, for the rail, we know what stations would look like, be it a rail station or bus station, because they will change," Largo city commission Harriet Crozier said.

She is part of the advocacy campaign called Greenlight Pinellas.

"In January, we'll begin the messaging and the educating part," Crozier said, on the assumption Pinellas County commissioners approve referendum ballot language before the end of this year.

PSTA is the county's transit agency, currently funded by a property tax that generates around $30 million a year. The proposed sales tax would replace the property tax, and quadruple the money available for mass transit.

Hillsborough voters rejected a similar initiative a few years ago, in large part because voters did not know what they would get for their money.

That lesson was noted by Pinellas advocates, who have now produced "...a year-to-year plan that shows where the investments in bus routes, bus rapid transit will happen, and also when the light rail will come on board in 2024," Welch said.

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