ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners are drawing up plans for the 16 rail stations that could be built between St. Petersburg and Clearwater if voters approve a penny sales tax referendum next fall and are trying to enact the needed zoning changes so the transit hubs eventually can anchor bustling commercial centers.
The measure on the November 2014 ballot will ask Pinellas County voters to fund development of a light rail line and expansion of the county bus system. The rail line would run between downtown Clearwater and downtown St. Petersburg, passing through the Gateway area to the east. Someday, trains could run across the Howard Frankland Bridge to Tampa.
The potential economic benefits of the rail line would come through the clustering of new residential development and businesses around stations that handle multiple types of transportation, including rail, buses and pedestrians, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority staffers said Monday at a meeting of PSTA's Advisory Committee for Pinellas Transportation.
“This is really the start of our discussion of the implications of putting together this kind of transit program and the effect that it has on our community, economic development and land use and how all these pieces fit together,” said Cassandra Borchers, chief development officer at PSTA.
If the referendum is approved, areas slated for a station include downtown Clearwater, Lealman, Largo, Gateway and downtown St. Petersburg. County planners based their designs on public input from local residents and businesses. Work wouldn't start on any of the stations until at least 2018, according to PSTA's current plans.
“Those particular concepts aren't set in stone, but they're what the citizens and the groups that got together would like to see in the stations,” said Michael Crawford, interim executive director of the Pinellas Planning Council.
Each station design is different, and each calls for something completely different from the area where it would be built. The vision for downtown Clearwater, for example, includes encouraging day and night activities and connecting the station to the waterfront. One of the two stations slated for Largo would encourage “a progressive and futuristic mixed-use community.” The Lealman plan would create easier access to workplaces near its station.
The Pinellas County Commission is expected to vote on the transit referendum ballot language in December. The 24-mile light rail line is expected to cost $1.68 billion, representatives from engineering firm HNTB said Monday.
A 2011 Jacobs Engineering study concluded it would cost between $1.3 billion and $1.8 billion to build.
“I think it's all falling into place,” said Largo City Commissioner Harriet Crotzer, a member of the advisory committee.