Pinellas man proposes magnetic levitation transit system

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ICars backed up on the way to Clearwater Beach is a familiar sight this time of year.

A Pinellas County man says he has a modern solution to our traffic woes, not just near the beach, but clear to Tampa and St. Pete.

It's unlike anything we've ever seen here or really, anywhere in the U.S.

For three years, Tom Nocera has been planning BeachTran, which would use technology developed by California-based company, skyTran.

"Stations are so narrow they can fit over sidewalks," a narrator said in a video on skyTran's website. "Per mile, skyTran is 1/10th the cost of light rail and 1/100th the cost of a subway."

The elevated guide rail would use magnetic levitation to move two-person passenger pods. The solar-powered system would initially run between downtown Clearwater and Clearwater Beach, eventually, expanding to St. Pete and Tampa.

"We want to build the system out," Nocera said. "We want to be able to take our network all the way over to Raymond James Stadium and arrive at Raymond James in time for the Super Bowl in 2021."

The estimate for the pilot project is $45 million with another $80 million going toward a 16-story or high terminal facility, privately funded, using no taxpayer money.

"We estimate we can take about a third of the cars off the road," Nocera said. "Our big idea is to make cars obsolete in the future. If you live near one of our stations, you’ll be able to walk to a station, board your transit, and have a very enjoyable ride to wherever it is you want to go."

It's an ambitious proposal. "First, we need to see a pilot test project. How does it operate? How does it function?" said Whit Blanton, Executive Director of Forward Pinellas. "Is it a real system that we can see and how we can evaluate it once we can see it?"

Blanton said it would require permitting from local governments and approval from the Florida Department of Transportation to use the Memorial Causeway Bridge.

'"They want to use the Pinellas Trail and use the air rights of the CSX rail lines in Pinellas County," Blanton said. "We need to see commitments from those organizations to allow that use to happen. So, that’s Pinellas County government for the trail and the CSX Corporation. And it’s all doable, but are those government and private sector entities willing to lease their air rights or light the Pinellas Trail for instance? That may have an effect on adjacent property owners who don’t want to see the lighting at night on the trail."

"I am open to the idea, and want to be very supportive of the concept that’s supposedly going to be funded with private sector dollars," Blanton said.

Nothing is impossible if you ask Nocera, the youngest member of the Apollo 11 launch crew that sent men to the moon.

"This is like a cake walk in comparison," Nocera said. "The impossible becomes doable. You have to have the right mindset. You have to just realize that it is possible with the right team."

skyTran is in talks with Space Florida to possibly build a test track at Kennedy Space Center. If all moves forward with permitting, engineering studies and right-of-way approvals, Nocera says he'd like to break ground on the terminal building by the end of this year.