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State urged to consider light rail for Howard Frankland Bridge

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Published:   |   Updated: October 9, 2013 at 09:07 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — The Florida Department of Transportation should preserve options for light rail as it plans to replace the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge.

That was the message Tuesday from those who attended the first of two public hearings this week on what to do with the bridge.

More than 65 people, along with another dozen transportation staff and Pinellas County elected officials, attended the session at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority headquarters. Thirteen people spoke in support of a light-rail corridor and two against it.

A second session is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. Public comment is scheduled for 6 p.m.

While the FDOT hearing wasn’t intended to focus on light rail, those speaking during the formal session and others who arrived early to study information boards and speak with FDOT representatives clearly had a potential rail option in mind.

Speakers ranging from Alex Glenn, Duke Energy’s president of utility operations in Florida, to Sierra Club members to Pinellas residents repeatedly said the transportation agency should not dismiss any options until residents of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties formally make their desires and funding support known. Pinellas County voters will be asked next year to approve a penny-per-dollar sales tax hike to pay for a light-rail network and expanded bus service.

“It’s not very often we are in agreement with the Sierra Club,” Glenn said “We should not kill any option for bus rapid transit or rail or both. Leave all options on the table.”

Transit advocates in Hillsborough are expected to push for another funding referendum as early as next year as well, following the county’s failed vote in 2010 to support light rail.

While only the public spoke during the formal session, FDOT representatives answered questions one-on-one before and after the public comment session.

The so-called northbound span of the bridge – it actually runs east and west between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties – opened to traffic in 1959 and is nearing the end of its serviceable life, FDOT officials said. The hearings will provide information used in a study for how to replace the northbound spans, a project that could cost between $390 million and $1.3 billion.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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