© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What's the future of Alternate U.S. 19? A Pinellas transit leader has some ideas

Whit Blanton, the leader of Forward Pinellas, standing along Alt US 19 in Clearwater, next to a bus stop, as cars pass by
Sky Lebron
"The transit service that runs along Alt US 19 is very productive, but it takes hours to go from end-to-end on that route," said Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton.

Certain portions of Alternate U.S. 19 see up to 35,000 cars per day. Whit Blanton, the executive director of Forward Pinellas, discusses a study that will look at how the roadway can adapt over the next few decades.

Stretching from St. Petersburg to Clearwater, Alternate U.S. 19 is one of Pinellas County’s busiest roadways. Certain portions see up to 35,000 cars per day.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is conducting a study to examine the future of the roadway as a main corridor for growth and development, and potential ways to make transit easier along the road.

WUSF’s Sky Lebron spoke with Whit Blanton, the executive director of Forward Pinellas. Standing along Alt. U.S. 19, they discussed the study and the future of the roadway. Blanton starts by discussing why a study like this needs to take place.

Whit Blanton: “Forward Pinellas has looked at Alt. U.S. 19 as a primary redevelopment corridor in the county, it's one of what we call ‘investment corridors.’ It's places where we think there's an opportunity to link housing that's affordable with better transportation options, and access to jobs and job training. As redevelopment happens, we want to be ready for that redevelopment. We want to plan for that redevelopment, and we want to make sure we have the infrastructure in place for that.”

What would you say is the accessibility of transportation — public transportation and other modes of transportation — along this corridor?

“It's a corridor that's difficult to walk or bike along because the sidewalk is right up against the travel lanes, and there's no real buffer. So it's a little uncomfortable from that standpoint. However, the transit service that runs along Alt. 19 is very productive, but it takes hours to go from end to end on that route. So what we're looking at is a way to maybe using express bus service to see if we can shorten that trip up considerably for people. That would give people an opportunity to maybe have 10 to 15 stops along the way, instead of 40 to 50 stops along the way, and that just makes for a faster trip.”

Man in a blue weather standing next to a Pinellas County map
Sky Lebron
Whit Blanton says the study "identifies is a framework for not only redevelopment, but transportation, accessibility and connectivity. "

If you're just a citizen, and you're just monitoring what's going on with Forward Pinellas and PSTA, you might see a bunch of studies. And you're like, ‘When does something happen? What comes out of these studies?’

“You have to have a project that's ready to go to be funded for construction. So you need to have a plan. What the corridor plan identifies is a framework for not only redevelopment, but transportation, accessibility and connectivity. I think my challenge is that we've projected 120,000 more residents moving to Pinellas County in the next 25 years. Where are we going to put another population the size of Clearwater in this very developed county? So we're looking at places where density and intensity building up make sense, and a corridor like this, where we have a lot of capacity (is ideal). It's high and dry, it's not in the coastal high hazard area. It's connected to jobs. It's connected to hospitals. It's connected to St. Pete College. This is a good opportunity where we want to see more growth and development happen.”

You talk about the need to provide walkability and bike-ability, and just other modes of transportation. Is that directly linked to what you just said — that potential population growth coming within the next few decades?

“It's not just our population here in Pinellas County. Hillsborough and Pasco and Manatee are all growing. We're not creating any more beach. We're second in the state in manufacturing jobs here in Pinellas. So we need to move people in our county, and we need to look at all ways of moving people. Most people, when they make a trip, most of their trips are 1-3 miles in length. And that's very easy to be walkable or bike-able if they feel safe and comfortable. But too often, unless you're on a trail, you don't feel safe or comfortable.”

“If nothing is done, and we kind of just sustain what we currently have, what do you think that could turn into for this road?”

“Well, I think it's bigger than just this road. I think what we do is we leave people behind in our economy who don't have transportation options, and can't get to an opportunity to develop a job skill or get to a job. Having good public transportation expands the employment options for people because they can get more places, more quickly. And I'm not limited to only the jobs in my neighborhood or in my certain walkable radius.

"I like this corridor because it's not a crisis yet. We've got time to think through what we can do in this corridor. You look at I-275, and the Westshore interchange or the downtown interchange, it's already at a crisis point. You've got to do something, you're behind the eight-ball. And we've got projects in motion for those. But it's nice to have a little bit of time to where you can anticipate what the future holds.”

As a host and reporter for WUSF, my goal is to unearth and highlight issues that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. If I truly connect with my audience as I relay to them the day’s most important stories and make them think about an issue past the point that I’ve said it in a newscast, that’s a success in my eyes.