Voters to decide fate of old roads in Pinellas

With more people per acre than other Florida counties, Pinellas County Commission Chairman John Morroni can safely declare, "Transportation is the number one issue in this county". 

This week he and fellow commissioners signed off on a new approach to addressing those transportation issues. 

Simply put, rebuild existing roads, adding bike lanes, sidewalks and making intersection improvements to roads already scheduled for repaving. 

"Actually it's less expensive," traffic engineer Tom Washburn told FOX 13. "You're looking to do what you can do within the existing right of way, and a lot of times within the existing footprint." 

Planning director Gordon Beardslee agreed the days of building major new roads are coming to an end. 

"In an urban environment it's very expensive to punch through new roads and... when you start to do that you start to impact existing developments," Beardslee explained.

The county now spends about $7 million a year repaving roadways. 

The upgrades will cost more.

"So I think this is starting the discussion of what we're looking for in the penny," Morroni said. 

He was referring to the “Penny for Pinellas” sales tax, which has been approved by voters three times in the past. The one percent sales tax is imposed in 10-year increments by public referendum. 

"In two years people are going to be seeing the Penny for Pinellas on their ballot, in November of 2017," Morroni said, then shared a letter sent last week to the Supervisor of Elections requesting a place on the November 7, 2017 ballot.

The current penny is expected to generate nearly $1.5 billion over its 10-year life span, with revenues roughly divided 50-50 between the county and Pinellas' 24 municipalities. 

The county spent most of the current Penny on major capital improvement projects such as a new public safety complex and additions to the jail and court houses.  With those now largely completed, as well as most major new road projects, in theory more money will be available for the more affordable rebuild of existing roads.