After nearly two months of in-depth analysis and study, experts from the engineering firm of HNTB and financial firm Ernst & Young have confirmed the financial viability of the Greenlight Pinellas transit improvement plan. In a presentation to the PSTA Board of Directors Oct. 24, CEO Brad Miller detailed the plan's fiscal structure and the corroborating findings from the outside financial experts.
The Greenlight Pinellas plan is based on two comprehensive and detailed studies that have become the blueprint for a successful expansion of the county's transit system. The first was the two and half year Alternatives Analysis (AA) study completed by Jacobs Engineering in partnership with PSTA, the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.
The second was the PSTA Community Bus Plan conducted by Transportation Management & Design Inc. Because the AA portion of the project used 2011 dollar figures, local leaders and members of the public asked for a validation of the cost estimates to ensure that the cost of the rail element of the plan is still within the original projection of $1.5-$1.7 billion. HNTB examined the cost estimates completed by Jacobs Engineering and determined them to be valid and correct. HNTB's estimate of $1.68B (2011$) was used by Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors as a key base case assumption along with other key assumptions to the financial model including cost escalation, revenue/grant forecasts, phased implementation and debt financing.
"The Greenlight Pinellas Plan is essential for the future of our economy and quality of life," says PSTA Chief Development Officer Cassandra Borchers. "It is critical that we make certain that the financials are rock-solid. We were very conservative with our assumptions and it's rewarding to have outside entities confirm that we are able to build and operate the bus and rail projects as promised in the county-wide Greenlight Pinellas Plan with the passage of the November 2014 referendum."
PSTA officials and partner agencies engaged thousands of people from every sector of the community to help craft the Greenlight Pinellas plan. Leaders say that input has been integral to creating a plan that is reflective of the community's desires and transportation needs. "Because this is a 30-year plan, we've included numerous contingencies so that we can easily adapt and modify it to accommodate future economic and cultural realities," adds Borchers.
In November 2014 Pinellas County citizens will be asked to approve funding for the Greenlight Pinellas in a referendum that would, if passed, replace the current PSTA property tax with a 1 percent sales tax.